Health Minister Zahid Maleque has said the government is working to meet the oxygen crisis and increase the number of beds in hospitals to address a probable surge in Covid-19 infections in the country.
In the last one week, the number of fresh Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country has increased by 26.67% and 6.96%, respectively, the health directorate said on Saturday.
Infections are likely to increase further as people are not following health guidelines, not wearing masks and wandering around recklessly without maintaining social distancing, said the minister at a meeting with the Bangladesh Private Medical College Association on Saturday afternoon.
The health minister said the number of infections must have increased due to not complying with hygiene norms during Eid, going to cattle markets, other markets and village homes. The result will be evident in the future, he warned.
This time, the infection rate is higher due to the Delta variant originated from India where infection spread in the villages too.
"In India, it took three months for the infection to reach its peak. It is expected that it will take three months to reduce the infection in our country," the health minister said.
"The number of patients in the third wave of Covid-19 is increasing. The rate of infection has increased 6-7 times. The death toll has increased tenfold. It is alarming.
"Bed occupancy has also increased 10 times. There are 15,000 beds for Covid-19 patients across the country, including 5,000 in Dhaka city. The number of empty beds in Dhaka city is decreasing day by day. The demand for ICU is also much higher," said the minister.
Mubin Khan, president of the Bangladesh Private Medical Colleges Association, assured the health minister of increasing Covid-19 dedicated beds by at least 2,000.
To address the situation, another 1,000 beds will be added to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital, the health minister said.
During the meeting, private hospital owners informed the minister about the oxygen crisis.
In this regard, ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the health directorate, said, "From now on, 400 tonnes of oxygen can be brought from India in two phases per week. As such, 1,600 tonnes of oxygen will come to the country every month. Then there will be no more oxygen crisis."
The country normally needs 60-70 tonnes of oxygen per day but at present, 270 tonnes of oxygen are needed, said Minister Zahid Maleque, adding. "Forty-three oxygen generators have been ordered. By August, 40 oxygen generators will be installed in 40 hospitals across the country. As a result, we will not have any oxygen crisis."
The minister further said 90% of the patients admitted to government hospitals are non-vaccinated with 75% from villages.
"Deaths will be reduced if we can vaccinate older people. The government has formed committees from the district, upazila to union level as an initiative to identify Covid-19 patients in rural areas. Work is underway to recruit 4,000 doctors, 4,000 nurses and 500 technologists to provide services at the upazila level," the minister added.
It had been decided to vaccinate doctors, nurses and health workers, the army, police and teachers who were fighting the epidemic. In addition, members of their families above the age of 18 will also be covered under the immunisation programme, he added.
200 tonnes of oxygen arrive in Bangladesh from India
To meet the growing demand of medical oxygen in Bangladesh due to rising Covid-19 cases, Linde Bangladesh yesterday imported 200 tonnes of medical oxygen by rail from India. This first-of-its-kind initiative saw 10 ISO tankers being transported on the Oxygen Express from Jamshedpur, India and arriving at Bangabandhu West railway Station via Benapole.
A spokesperson from Linde Bangladesh said, "The Oxygen Express was an initiative that Linde India worked on with the government of India, and we are glad to be able to adopt it for the growing crisis in Bangladesh as well. The medical oxygen supply was sourced from Linde India plants in India and will be distributed to the Covid-19 dedicated hospitals nationwide."
Linde Bangladesh plans to continue importing medical oxygen through rail to supplement its local supply with active assistance from Linde India, the governments of India and Bangladesh.
This is one of several initiatives that Linde Bangladesh has embarked on to help support the fight against the current Covid-19 crisis, including the medical oxygen booths inaugurated at Khulna Medical College Hospital earlier this week.