The health ministry on Saturday announced that doctors treating Covid-19 patients across the country will get transportation by helicopter to Dhaka for better treatment if they get infected in the line of duty.
Doctors and nurses working at hospitals designated for treating novel coronavirus cases will be allowed to stay at any nearby residential hotels and eat at any restaurants.
The ministry in addition instructed them to keep the costs of food under Tk500 per meal and avoid expensive hotels for accommodation. No limit has yet been set on hotel rents for doctors and nurses.
Habibur Rahman Khan, additional secretary of the health ministry and focal point of the ministry's media cell, made the announcement about the measures at the secretariat.
Stating that 2,000 doctors and 6,000 nurses will be appointed in light of the number of Covid-19 patients rising day by day, he added, "Around 7,000-8,000 non-cadre candidates are listed with the Bangladesh Public Service Commission (BPSC), who are currently in the waiting list of the 39th Bangladesh Civil Services (BCS).
"The health ministry will send the list of 2,000 candidates to President Abdul Hamid, seeking approval for their urgent appointment."
Under normal circumstances, such appointments need the approval of the Ministry of Public Administration and the Ministry of Finance. However, the President is empowered to approve the process under emergency situations.
Habibur Rahman added that more doctors and nurses will be appointed after approval is obtained from the two ministries.
He further said, "We are not tired, we are concerned. Every day the number of infected people is increasing and we are preparing accordingly. We are making a serious effort to test more and more people. So far, 21 laboratories have been carrying out testing for the coronavirus.
"Several other facilities have labs too, and we are preparing to turn them into coronavirus testing facilities by supplying them with equipment. New labs will also be built. We are readying additional hospitals to tackle the increasing number of infected people."
Habibur Rahman added that 2,700 beds are ready in nine designated hospitals to treat Covid-19 cases.
When asked about the number of kits currently in stock, the additional secretary said there is no point in confirming the number of kits, as those are being used every day and new ones are being imported as well.
Spelling out more details, he said, "International Convention City Bashundhara (ICCB) will be turned into a hospital within the next 3-4 days. Around 15,000-20,000 beds will be installed at that facility.
"However, critical patients will not be taken to the ICCB, because it will not be possible to install ICU and ventilators there. If the condition of any patient admitted there becomes critical, the person will be shifted to another hospital."
Habibur Rahman continued, "On the 8th floor of Dhaka North City Corporation market building in Mohakhali, we are installing 250 beds for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers with Covid-19, and we will install an additional 1,300 beds for other coronavirus patients on other floors.
"If needed, private hospitals will be designated as Covid-19 treatment facilities. At the district level, hospitals are being designated as treatment centres for coronavirus patients. Despite the increasing number of patients, we will not face a shortage of beds."
He continued, "We are utilising the services of every virologist in the country. There are challenges in collecting blood samples for testing, so the people concerned are being trained online. The deputy commissioners have been instructed to have two vehicles ready for providing transportation to healthcare workers and one microbus for moving patients."
Adding that there is no shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers, Habibur Rahman said,"We currently have 263,000 PPE in stock. So far we have supplied 1,200,000 PPE [to those who need them].
"If any company creates any confusion by supplying substandard masks, it will be blacklisted."
Stating that since the pandemic began, about 673,000 people have arrived in the country from abroad, the additional secretary made it clear that all of them have been screened.
Responding to a question on the health ministry's stance regarding a reopening of various factories, including garment factories, Habibur Rahman said, "The government has declared a general holiday till May 5. Government offices will remain closed during this period.
"We believe that factory owners and regulatory bodies should make their decisions regarding the matter in line with the government's decision. We have informed them of our opinion, and hope that they will consider it."
He added that the ministry is optimistic about industry owners agreeing with the government's decision on reopening the factories. He noted that factories making PPE can continue their operations unhindered.
Commenting on oxygen shortage in hospitals, the additional secretary said, "Most of our hospitals do not have centralised oxygen supply systems. Kurmitola Hospital has the system. At that facility, oxygen can be supplied to the ICU and the operation theatre, but not to the general ward.
"It is not possible to install this system at hospitals in such short notice. So, we have to rely on oxygen cylinders for now."
When asked about the absence of government organisations in collecting the Gonoshasthaya Kendra testing kits, Habibur Rahman said, "The Directorate General of Drug Administration is responsible for testing any drug or medical equipment. After its approval comes through, the kits can be brought to the market.
"The decision will not come from government officials. Researchers will carry out testing on the kits. If those kits pass the test, Gonoshasthaya Kendra can move into commercial production."
Commenting on the reason behind the formation of the media cell, he said, "We want to ensure accurate publication of news related to the coronavirus pandemic. We want to correct any false information.
"We also want to preserve various kinds of advice and information being carried by the media."