The border with India has remained shut but many Bangladeshis are still returning home through the Benapole port in Jashore and the highly contagious Indian variant of Covid-19 has already been detected in six persons coming from the neighbouring country.
Experts say there is a need to bring Jashore under strong monitoring to prevent the transmission of the Indian variant in the country. Everyone returning from India through Jashore has to be properly quarantined and when a positive case is found, their genome sequencing needs to be done as soon as possible.
Civil Surgeon of Jashore Dr Sheikh Abu Shaheen told The Business Standard that 90% of those returning from India are now entering the country through Jashore as the border is closed. Geologically, Jashore is now at risk.
In Jashore, there are 64 general and three intensive care beds and a central oxygen line for treating Covid-19 patients. Work is underway to introduce five more ICU beds.
Dr Shaheen said, "All those who are returning from India are being quarantined for 14 days. The number of patients so far we have is not much, so there is no problem to provide them with healthcare services."
But, the way people are roaming around without abiding by hygiene rules, there is a risk of a spike in infections after Eid. If the Indian variant spreads, the situation will be difficult to deal with, he added.
Although the Bangladesh government closed the border with India for 14 days, starting from 26 April, amid virus surge, many Bangladeshis were allowed to enter the country, subject to having Covid-19 negative certificates. They were put in mandatory quarantine.
Some 2,564 passengers have so far returned to the country through the Benapole land port. Of them, 18 have tested positive for Covid-19.
Professor Iqbal Kabir Zahid, associate director of the Genome Centre at Jashore University of Science and Technology, told TBS, "We have found the Indian variant of coronavirus in two out of 16 India returnees by doing genome sequencing on samples collected from them."
"Among them, there is a 40-year-old woman and an 18-year-old man. This Indian variant has the capacity to transmit at a rate of over 20%. We have not received any new samples for genome sequencing," he added.
Iqbal said those who are now entering the country from India through Jashore should be kept under continuous monitoring. Genome sequencing needs to be further enhanced.
India's second wave has hit the country with such ferocity that hospitals are running out of oxygen, beds and antiviral drugs. Many patients are being turned away due to lack of space for them.
Towns and villages near the Indian border have been hit particularly hard by the health emergency, with the number of people needing medical treatment rapidly rising. Even the crematoriums are overwhelmed, turning the management of dead bodies into a huge challenge for authorities.
The people coming to the country through the Benapole border are quarantined, but drivers and helpers of many goods-carrying vehicles enter Bangladesh every day and go around without complying with health safety rules.
Experts fear that the Indian variant can spread through them.
Prof Iqbal said drivers and helpers entering Bangladesh through the Benapole border for commercial or any other reason need to strictly adhere to hygiene rules, and they should get tested as well.
Professor Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and member of the National Technical Advisory Committee, told TBS, "The Indian variant is much more contagious and children are being infected with it. So, now we have to ramp up the number of tests in the border area and ensure a 14-day quarantine for foreign returnees. Mask-wearing should be made compulsory as well."
Covid-19 situation in Bangladesh
Bangladesh saw 1,386 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, with a positivity rate of 8.19%. The total caseload reached 7,73,513 in the country, according to the data provided by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
Meanwhile, 56 more people died of the virus during the 24 hour-period, which took the total death count to 11,934. The fatality rate stood at 1.54% on Sunday.
Covid-19 situation can get worse after Eid: DGHS
The alarming coronavirus transmission surge in the country can get worse after Eid-ul-Fitr, warned Professor Nazmul Islam on Sunday, spokesman of the health directorate.
In a regular bulletin, Nazmul said although the new variant has been detected in the country, medical services and management strategies remain the same.
"The Indian variant was found today, tomorrow another new variant will emerge if we fail to break the chain of rising new variants," he said.
The number of patients will not go down as medical services, including equipment and manpower, are not unlimited in the country," he said.
The infection rate remained below 10% for the past few days, which has shown a ray of hope but there is no scope for being satisfied, he stated.
Centring the Eid vacation, people are rushing to leave the capital for their ancestral homes all across the country, which can radically spread the virus.
The current Covid-19 situation can turn grim after Eid if the lockdown is relaxed, he suspected.