The National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 has recommended imposing a 14-day all-out shutdown across the country to contain the worsening Covid-19 situation.
The rapid transmissions will not stop without a strict shutdown and this has been proven in other countries, especially in neighbouring India, says a press release of the committee.
With high infection rates in more than 50 districts, the technical committee fears that the health system will be inadequate no matter how prepared it is if the recommended shutdown is not strictly imposed.
The committee came up with the recommendation on Thursday in the wake of an alarming increase in infection rate all over the country.
"Considering the technical committee's recommendation is logical, the government has taken it seriously. Any tough decision can be made at any time," State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain told The Business Standard on Thursday night.
Experts said if the transmission chain in Dhaka cannot be broken now, the ongoing third wave of the pandemic will be more deadly than the previous two.
The rising coronavirus cases have turned two-thirds of Bangladesh – 40 districts of the country – into very high-risk zones, according to a report of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In addition, 15 more districts are at high risk of infection and six at moderate risk.
In the past one week, the infection rate in Dhaka division was the highest, increasing by 114.4%, according to the WHO report.
The WHO released the report on the country's infection situation on Tuesday, identifying three levels of risk based on one week's (14-20 June) sample test and patient identification rate.
The WHO report said in the epidemiological-week 24, all divisions experienced an increase in weekly new cases. The Dhaka division reported the highest number of new cases 8,215, a 114.4% increase compared to the previous week when the number of new cases was 3,831.
During the time, infection rate in Rangpur division increased by 86.7%, Mymensingh division 61.9%, Barishal division 49.6%, Khulna division 49.3%, Chattogram division 42.2%, Sylhet division 20.6% and Rajshahi division by 12.9%.
Professor Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and a member of the National Technical Advisory committee on Covid-19, told The Business Standard, "The rate at which the infection is increasing in Dhaka will worsen the situation. To think that Dhaka can be kept safe through lockdown in the surrounding districts is like living in a fool's paradise. The authorities are not able to impose a lockdown in those districts. People are coming to Dhaka on foot, spreading the infection as well as increasing the suffering of the people."
He said it is not enough just to impose a lockdown. It is necessary to appoint volunteers to deliver the necessary materials to the people. Medical equipment, sample testing, quarantine and isolation must be ensured. Otherwise, infection and death will increase.
Meanwhile, the number of Covid patients is increasing every day in the hospitals in Dhaka. In the 5,156 general beds of the 28 public and private Covid hospitals in the capital, there are 1670 patients at present. On Thursday, no ICU beds were available in seven hospitals including Kurmitola, Dhaka Medical, Mugda, Ibne Sina and Labaid.
Dr Abu Jamil Faisal, a public health expert and member of the Public Health Advisory Committee of Covid-19, told TBS, "The delta variant of coronavirus is spreading all across the country with an alarmingly high infection rate. That is why the risk is more than before. If preventive measures are not taken to prevent infection in Dhaka, infection and death will increase more in a few days. Earlier, infection rate was high only in Dhaka, but this time the infection rate is increasing all across the country. So, this third wave is going to be terrible."
He said that the way infection could be contained in Chapainawabganj or Natore through lockdown will not work in the capital. Dhaka is a big city, there is a lot of movement. People do not wear masks, they do not follow hygiene rules. Reducing the movement, it is necessary to conduct more tests and emphasise more on quarantine and isolation in Dhaka.
Directorate General of Health Services Spokesperson Dr Nazmul Islam told TBS, "We are working to keep not only Dhaka but the whole country safe. Due to the Indian variant in the border districts, the attention is a bit more this time. However, no new decision has been taken yet to lock down Dhaka."
Informing that the government has an adequate number of test kits, he said, "We are emphasising on increasing the antigen test, but people are coming less to get tested. To cope with the current situation, the government has adequate storage of all kinds of medical equipment needed for Covid treatment. As the financial year is ending, new tenders have been floated. All kinds of materials including kits and medicines are being bought."
"If people are not aware, no country can handle a pandemic. People are not wearing masks, they are not following hygiene rules. It will be a challenge for us to deal with the situation once the number of patients starts increasing," he added.
Daily cases surge to 6,058, highest in 73 days
Bangladesh reported 6,058 new infections and 81 deaths in the last 24 hours ending at Thursday 8am.
This is the highest number of single-day positive cases in 73 days as 7,201 daily cases were reported on 12 April.
With Thursday's figures, the total caseload increased to 8,72,935 and the death toll to 13,868 in the country.
In the meantime, the positivity rate was recorded at 19.93% while the fatality rate remained unchanged at 1.59%.
The country also tested a large number of samples during this period, as 30,391 more samples were tested in 554 labs across the country.
Meanwhile, the highest number of 23 casualties were reported in Khulna division. Rajshahi came second in terms of daily deaths as 20 people died there.
Moreover, 13 more died in Dhaka division, seven each in Chattogram and Ranpur, five in Sylhet, and three each in Barishal and Mymensingh divisions.
Recommendation to stop offices, vehicles once more
The technical committee said it has also consulted with the highest level of experts from India who said the rapid transmissions were brought under control in those areas in India, where a complete shutdown was enforced.
According to the committee, it is necessary to keep everything, including vehicles and offices, closed except the emergency services during these 14 days. The district-based lockdown has failed to contain the spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus.
India's experience has shown that it is not possible to stop the spread of the virus without strict measures. The committee has called for a 14-day shutdown to prevent the spread of the disease and the loss of human life as the current situation has spiralled out of control.