With India's coronavirus situation aggravating amid mounting infections and deaths, health experts in Bangladesh have suggested suspending connectivity with the neighbouring country to prevent any possible deterioration of the situation.
They say Bangladesh may see an increase in infections as markets are open from Sunday and public transports will resume soon, but the situation will go beyond control if the Indian variants of the virus spread here.
Dr Nusrat Sultana, assistant professor in the Department of Virology at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said the pandemic had taken a dangerous turn in India due to the double mutation and the UK variants.
She said the emergence of the triple mutation variant (B.1.618) had exacerbated the crisis.
"The variant is very contagious and may turn deadly. It is called Bengal strain as it surfaced in West Bengal. 129 instances of the variant were found after sequencing 130 genomes. This is concerning for us," she said.
The doctor said countries around the world had already cancelled all flights to and from India and Bangladesh should follow suit.
Iran said on Saturday it would bar travellers from India to avert the spread of an Indian variant in the already stricken country, reports Reuters.
"The Indian coronavirus is a new threat we face," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in remarks broadcast on state TV.
"All the eastern provinces should make sure people infected with the virus do not cross the borders into the country," he said.
Iran's eastern provinces have borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Visitors can also travel to Iran by way of the Gulf.
For the third consecutive day, India on Saturday recorded over three lakh fresh infections, continuing the trend of registering the world's highest daily tally, reports Hindustan Times.
With 346,786 people testing positive out of 1,753,569 tested in the last 24 hours, India's total Covid-19 tally reached 16,610,481 on Saturday. The single-day toll also made a new record as 2,624 people died, taking the total death tally to almost 1.9 lakh.
Bangladeshi healthcare experts say the Indian variant may enter the country anytime as the Bangladesh-India borders are still open on a limited scale.
They say the situation is already worrying in Bangladesh, which has been hit by the second wave of the pandemic and is struggling to provide the required healthcare to Covid-19 patients even after increasing hospital beds and expanding intensive care unit facilities.
Professor Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist and a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, told The Business Standard those returning from India should be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine to prevent the spread of the Indian variant here.
Infections may rise after two weeks
The infection rate in Bangladesh came down to 13% on Saturday from 24% when the third lockdown took effect on 14 April. It may remain low for the next few days but experts say there is a risk of it rising again after two weeks.
Dr Shafiun Shimul, an associate professor at the University of Dhaka and a team member of CoMo (Covid-19 Modelling) Consortium at the University of Oxford, told The Business Standard this could happen as markets had opened and the 'strict' lockdown might no longer be in effect.
He said it was 'very unusual' to think that the Indian variant would not be found here, adding that the situation would turn worse in that case.
"Our modelling says infections may peak in Bangladesh in late May or mid-June. As many as 12,000 cases may be identified every day if more tests are done during the peak," he further said.
He said no concrete decision had been made in the last 13 months to control infections in Bangladesh.
A lockdown is imposed suddenly when infections rise and it is lifted again in the same manner in the face of pressure from the business community or considering livelihoods of the poor, he said.
He termed this a 'binary measure', which means sometimes there is a lockdown, followed by complete normalcy.
"We are not making any decisions considering the new normal. We should plan before making decisions. Everything should be opened gradually and not all at once. Everyone should be compelled to follow hygiene rules as well," he added.
Lockdown brings down infections
Epidemiological reviews by the Directorate General of Health Services based on testing, detection, recovery, and death have shown that infections fall when a lockdown is in effect. Such reviews have been done every week since the virus broke out in the country last year.
The review of the 11th week (20 March this year) showed that testing had increased by 20.49% compared to the previous week while detection, recovery, and death rose by 91.49%, 24.74%, and 85.53% respectively. It was when there was no lockdown.
Eleven days after the 5 April lockdown was imposed, the review of the 16th week (17 April) revealed that testing and detection had decreased by 2.4% and 25.24% respectively while recovery and death were up by 21.68% and 7.56%.
Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, an adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told The Business Standard infections had gone down after the imposition of restrictions on 5 April.
He said everyone should be more cautious as the restrictions were being eased.
Bangladesh, he said, should learn from India's situation, adding that oxygen supplies should be distributed evenly so that people across the country have access to it.