The daily Covid-19 infection rate has remained below 5% for the last two weeks – indicating that the spread of the virus has largely been contained in Bangladesh – helping experts to breathe a sigh of relief, but with caution.
Like many other global pandemic experts, virologists in Bangladesh warned earlier that the spread of Covid-19 virus might worsen and the infection rate might jump during the winter.
But, daily data released by the director general of health tells a different story.
The daily infection rate has remained below 10% for the last one-and-a half-months, the peak time of winter. This means fewer than 10 of the 100 people tested were found to be infected with the virus.
The infection curve even saw a gradual drop most of the days since the middle of December. Some days recorded a slight increase in infection rate, but it did not jump over the 10% point of the curve.
Now, experts believe the pandemic has largely become endemic. And if the infection rate remains below 5% for another one or two more weeks, then it can be concluded that the virus is under control.
They however stressed the need for following the health guidelines such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing – to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
According to available data, the spread of the virus was at an alarming level for three months – from mid-May to mid-August – when the daily infection rate hovered around 20% the majority of the days. On 3 August, the infection rate was around 32%. And since then, the rate started dropping gradually, though fluctuated sometimes.
Now, Bangladesh has started rolling out vaccine jabs to fight the pandemic. It has a target to vaccinate 14 crore people – 80% of the population – in two years.
Over 8,000 people have died of Covid-19 since last March while more than five lakh people were infected with the deadly virus.
The situation in India is however better than in Bangladesh. Its daily infection rate has continuously dropped and currently stands at 1.7%.
The situation in Pakistan remains almost the same as in Bangladesh.
The United Kingdom (UK), one of the worst hit countries in Europe that rolled out large scale vaccinations, is witnessing a daily infection rate below 5%.
The situation in the United States, when it comes to daily infection rate is better than the UK. However, with a more than 4.5 lakh death toll, the world largest economy has rolled out a mass vaccination campaign.
What experts say
Professor Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist and also the former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a specific community at a particular time is called an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if the novel coronavirus spread rate is more than 5% in a region or country, then it will be treated as an epidemic there.
"But, if the [novel] coronavirus infection rate falls below 5% for three consecutive weeks, the virus then will become endemic. The infection rate in our country has been below 5% for 13 days already. And after one week with the low infection rate, we will be able to label it as endemic here," added Professor Nazrul.
He said schools and colleges can reopen if the infection rate remains below 5%. But, there is a risk of resurgence in infection rate if people do not follow the virus safety measures.
Currently diseases such as typhoid, influenza or pneumonia prevail in Bangladesh as endemic.
Professor Nazrul Islam noted the declining Covid-19 infection provides a relief and the country is at an advantage. "But we have to maintain the health guidelines and emphasize inoculating as many people as we can to help the nation achieve herd immunity," he said.
"Winter viruses in our country are quite dominating, and they do not allow other viruses to survive. But those viruses will not be out there at the end of winter," the former BSMMU VC told The Business Standard.
However, Dr M Mushtaq Hussain, adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said that Bangladesh has yet to label coronavirus as endemic since the disease still has community-level transmission.
He, however, agreed that the infection rate is declining.
Dr Mushtaq said, "Our infection rate has declined, but we need to be careful. We have to look at whether there are more cases in any region. If a blaze is not doused completely and the spark survives somewhere, then it can spread everywhere again."
He stressed on the importance of regular genome sequencing of the novel coronavirus since it can reappear as a new variant.
"The daily infections need to be examined properly. We have to find out how many aspirant migrants are in the daily tests. Because, their tests for the migration requirements do not reflect on the actual infection rate of the country," he added.
"If the infection rate is more than 5% even after excluding the aspirant migrants, that will still be concerning. We have to ramp up the testing so that the declining infection rate does not mislead us," he cautioned.