The government fears the Covid-19 pandemic will worsen in May with up to 50,000 cases of infection and 1,000 deaths and hence is preparing 20,000 hospital beds for treating patients across the country.
The health ministry says so far, 6,000 beds have been prepared in government and private hospitals in the country, including Dhaka.
However, Professor Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, does not agree with the statement.
He said the government has been asserting since the beginning that it is prepared but, in reality, there is no preparation.
Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser to the World Health Organisation's South Asia region, said the country now needs to be aggressive to tackle coronavirus.
"The health ministry fears the number of cases may reach one lakh by May 31 in the worst-case scenario," Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the health directorate, told an inter-ministerial meeting chaired by Health Minister Zahid Maleque on April 21.
The meeting, which was held online, was attended by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, Foreign Minister AKM Abdul Momen, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Dr Md Enamur Rahman, State Minister for Labour Begum Monnujan Sufian, secretaries of different ministries and the Prime Minister's Office, and top officials of police and the armed forces.
Habibur Rahman Khan, additional secretary to the health ministry and focal point of the ministry's media cell, told The Business Standard on Monday that the rise in infection and death rates estimated during the meeting was not an expert opinion.
"The high numbers were projected so that there would be no gap in our preparations even if those figures come true," he said.
Dr Azad of the health directorate told the meeting that experts had prepared two types of projections.
"The first is conservation, according to which 48,000-50,000 people may be infected and 800-1,000 may die by May 31. Another projection says infections may rise to around one lakh.
"Many factors were considered to prepare the projections, such as lockdown, carefulness, social distancing and their present state. We are preparing for curbing the pandemic and treating patients based on the estimations. According to the World Health Organisation's latest guidelines, 20 percent of the infected patients need hospital care," he said.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque told the meeting that private hospitals had also been prepared as part of the initiative to make 6,000 beds ready for treating Covid-19 patients.
Dr Md Aminul Hasan, director (hospital) of the health directorate, said government and private hospitals and clinics had been mapped to provide healthcare for Covid-19 patients across the country.
"As part of that measure, 6,000 beds are now ready. Also, 20,000 beds are being prepared," he said.
Information Minister Hasan Mahmud said a home-based Covid-19 treatment should be formulated and disseminated across the media and social media.
He stressed following the US model for infection projection, and the models in South Korea and China for treatment.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the law enforcement agencies were working as per the prime minister's directive and supervision to tackle the coronavirus crisis.
This is why the situation is still good, he said.
Kamal said people should be encouraged to maintain isolation, quarantine and lockdown.
"No Rohingya will be allowed to enter Bangladesh during the crisis," added the minister.
The meeting decided to formulate a telemedicine guideline based on protocol made by the health directorate for providing Covid-19 treatment.
The health directorate said it would further expand the existing home-based treatment.
The law enforcement agencies will maintain a strong presence to make sure that people are following lockdown and social distancing measures where the number of cases is high.
Professor Muzaherul Huq said there was no scope to think about the pandemic from a conservative point of view.
He said the country now needs to be aggressive to tackle the coronavirus.
"Otherwise, the situation could be worse than the projections about the spread of the virus made by the director general of the health directorate," he said.
Muzaherul said infections were rising in Bangladesh and this would continue until the peak was reached.
"After that, it will no longer increase and will start decreasing. This is called the disease curve. But we have not yet been able to stop the rise in infections. This is why the number of cases is going up, and death risks are also increasing," he explained.
He said health services in no country were prepared to tackle coronavirus, and neither were ours.
"But we had the chance to be aggressive even though we did not do accordingly in time. The more aggressive we can be now to prevent the spread of the virus, the better. But the government had no preparation before, and does not have that now either. We have not yet been able to determine the treatment system in Covid-19 hospitals and others. We could not ensure protection for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers of outdoors and emergency departments of hospitals where non-coronavirus patients will be treated.
"Hospitals for Covid-19 patients have to maintain standards and their manpower, including physicians, have to be provided complete protection if we want to ensure quality healthcare. We need to ensure everything necessary for the intensive care units, including ventilators. But we have not yet been able to prepare even a single hospital accordingly," he said.
He also said, "We need to ensure availability of at least N-95 masks or those of similar qualities to check coronavirus spread. We also need to ensure social distancing. The World Health Organisation has given six conditions for opening factories. But we opened our factories without following those, thus raising the risk further. In this respect, I think the situation could be worse than projections about the spread of the virus made by the director general of the health directorate."
Professor Nazrul Islam told The Business Standard, "Based on information about testing and infections from the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research so far, it seems there will not be 50,000 cases by the end of May. But regardless of the number of infections, there are treatment facilities for them. When it comes to treatment, it is like we have nothing. Locking up patients in hospital does not mean they are being treated or isolated."
He does not agree with the health directorate's claim that 6,000 beds are ready for patients.
"No one can show where the beds are. The government has been asserting since the beginning that it is prepared. However, in reality, there is no preparation. We need the highest level of carefulness in this regard," added the professor.