Markets and shopping malls are abuzz with Eid shoppers, public bus services have resumed, the first dose of the countrywide mass inoculation has been postponed and more and more people are dumping away their face masks – this is what the public health experts call a concern for Bangladesh to witness a third wave of Covid-19 infections.
They say although Bangladesh is witnessing the virus infection resurgence calming down for around a week, coronavirus spread may shoot up again after mid-May marking the third wave of the pandemic as Covid-19 rages in India.
To avert an India-like virus situation, the government has been urged to raise oxygen stock, ready the hospitals, ensure quarantine for those returning from India, increase Covid-19 genome sequencing and ensure that people maintain the virus safety guidelines.
Dr M Mushtuq Husain, adviser at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said when citizens show a lax approach to health safety, the infection rate subsequently rises.
"There is a 100% possibility that Bangladesh will face a third wave as we have reopened everything. If even the third wave does not occur, the daily caseload and deaths will rise from mid-May due to the reopening of everything," he told The Business Standard.
Echoing Dr Mushtuq, Health Minister Zahid Maleque Thursday said the Eid shopping bonanza will raise the infection curve, possibly after 16 May.
Dhaka Medical College Principal Prof Dr Titu Miah was asked what could happen in the medical sector if the infection rate suddenly shot up.
"No country's medical system could so far tolerate the excessive infection pressure. We would crush too," he told TBS.
Dr Titu, therefore, put emphasis on Covid-19 prevention measures. "Face masks can protect us no matter what the variant is. Besides, we must celebrate the upcoming Eid at wherever we are now to avert the Eid rush to home."
Oxygen is very important in treating Covid patients. Media reports show the horrifying pictures of India's oxygen shortage causing too many deaths across the country. Delhi has already stopped exporting oxygen to Bangladesh.
According to Bangladesh health ministry, the country currently needs 70-80 tonnes of medical oxygen a day. During the peak of the second wave of the pandemic, the maximum oxygen demand per day was up to 210 tonnes. Currently, Bangladesh can produce 220 to 230 tonnes of the gas every day. The government now has about 900 tonnes of oxygen in stock for emergencies.
Dr Titu Miah thinks the stock is sufficient, but the hospitals need to be rational in oxygen use.
Apart from the preparations for treatment, experts recommended immunising people fast as the mass vaccination hits a stumbling block with less than 5% of the total population inoculated.
Though the government talks about purchasing vaccines from China and Russia, no concrete agreement has been signed yet.
India's situation worries Bangladesh
India said a new variant of the coronavirus first discovered there in March may be linked to the deadly second wave causing a collapse to the country's health system.
India's top scientific adviser said a third wave of the coronavirus is inevitable in the country. They warned that vaccines will need to be updated to deal with the new strains that have overwhelmed hospitals and left thousands of people dead, NDTV reports.
Bangladeshi experts say the Indian variant can also cause a catastrophic situation here as many people came to Bangladesh despite the border closure.
So far, 60 coronavirus cases have come to the country from India. Their genome sequencing was being conducted to find out if they are infected with the new variant. However, experts think Bangladesh should carry out more genome sequencing in addition to daily Covid-19 testing.
Shafiun Shimul, an associate professor of Dhaka University and a team member of Covid-19 Modelling Consortium at the Oxford University, told TBS that India's Covid-19 experience is more worrying to Bangladesh.
"Because we have a lot of differences with Europe and America, but we have a lot of similarities with India in terms of social system or medical capacity. So, there is no alternative to being careful. Adequate oxygen reserves should be maintained so that the system does not break down if the third wave comes," he added.
Learn from the neighbour: Minister
Health Minister Zahid Maleque Thursday said the people should learn a lesson from the dire pandemic situation in neighbouring India.
"India's inability to control public gatherings led the country to suffer today," he said while talking in a virtual discussion on Covid-19 management.
He asked fellow citizens to learn from India, the country that had its Covid-19 situation under control until it failed to maintain the Covid-19 health guidelines during social events like political campaigns, Holi, Kumbh Mela, and marriage celebrations.
"The way people are binging on Eid shopping may also turn our Covid situation into something like India's," the minister warned, adding that new clothes may bring joy but it may also turn into tragedy.
The minister said the current oxygen stock will be enough if the intensity of the third wave remains normal.
"But if infection surges up abnormally and slips out of control, tackling the patients' rush will be very challenging," added Zahid Maleque.