Fearing that a fresh wave of Covid-19 infections may hit the country, experts have advised the government to prepare immediately to tackle a worsened situation.
"Infection is on the rise in border areas due to the Delta variant of Covid-19. We fear that the situation across the country may worsen again. All preparations have to be made before that," Dr Abdul Aziz, member of the Standing Committee on Ministry of Health, told The Business Standard.
The fear of a third Covid wave arises in the wake of a consistent surge in infection and deaths from the disease, especially in the bordering districts. In the past 24 hours till Sunday 8am, 82 people died of Covid-19 in Bangladesh, which is the highest in 52 days.
In the same period, 3,641 more people tested positive, taking the tally to 8,51,668.
District hospitals have been seeing more patients than they have beds and ICUs.
"There was a crisis of hospital beds in the second wave of Covid-19. We suggested taking preparation immediately so that the crisis does not arise again," Dr Aziz said after a meeting of the standing committee yesterday.
"ICUs have not yet been set up in the district level hospitals as per the prime minister's directive. We urged the setting up of the ICUs immediately too," he continued.
He also said the health ministry has informed the committee that three more private plants will produce 250 tonnes more oxygen as emphasis has been put on increasing oxygen reserves rapidly.
Currently, two oxygen plants are producing 140 tonnes of oxygen daily. At the peak of the second wave of Covid-19, the demand for oxygen reached 210 tonnes a day.
Dr Abdul Aziz said the committee also suggested that the government run a campaign with the help of people's representatives, teachers, players and religious leaders to make people aware of the necessity of wearing masks.
Health Minister Zahid Malik attended the ninth meeting of the standing committee on Sunday, where the authorities concerned discussed purchasing test kits, the current state of ICU and oxygen in dealing with Covid-19 and the possible crisis.
Covid-19 cases, deaths on the rise
With Sunday's figures, the total fatalities reached 13,548 in the country. The positivity rate stood 16.38%.
Dr M Mushtuq Husain, adviser at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told TBS, "In the first wave of Covid-19 in the country, more than 4,000 patients were diagnosed with the virus daily and the positivity rate was more than 20%. Currently, more than 3,500 Covid-19 patients are detected daily and the positivity rate has exceeded 18%. So another wave is appearing. In the next one week, the number of daily new Covid-19 cases is expected to be equal to that in the first wave."
Dr M Mushtuq Husain said, "The wave of infection has to be curbed quickly, otherwise the situation would be difficult to control if the people's movement increases during Eid. Now the authorities should put the whole country under a strict lockdown for two weeks.
"The authorities concerned must also stop inter-district movement of people, limit the traffic movement inside cities, and allow employees work from home. Otherwise, the pressure on the hospitals will increase, the oxygen crisis will arise and infections and deaths will increase."
According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), an analysis of the epidemiological weeks shows that the identification of Covid-19 patients has increased by 55.18% and mortality by 48.30% in the 24th week (13-19 June) compared to the 23rd week (6-12 June).
More patients than hospital beds
According to the DGHS, the Khulna Medical College has 90 beds for the Covid-19 patients, but 118 such patients were taking treatment there on Sunday.
Besides, four of the 10 government hospitals in Khulna have no ICUs, while the rest have only 40 ICUs in total. So, most patients from different areas in the division seek treatment at the Khulna Medical College.
A similar situation prevailed in the Jashore General Hospital, Rajshahi Medical College Hospital and Kushtia General Hospital, where there were more Covid-19 patients than beds on Sunday.
According to the DGHS, 257 general beds and 14 ICUs were vacant in ten hospitals in Rajshahi division, but patients from four districts there were taking treatment at the Rajshahi Medical College due to lack of facilities in the other hospitals. Sixty-eight Covid-19 patients were taking treatment at the hospital floor on Sunday as the number of patients exceeded the number of beds.
The situation is not much better in the capital either. The Kurmitola General Hospital in Dhaka has 275 beds for Covid-19 patients, but it was treating 278 patients on Sunday. There were no vacant ICUs in four Covid-19 dedicated hospitals including the Kurmitola General Hospital in the city, according to the DGHS.
According to the DGHS, there were 12,056 dedicated general beds for Covid-19 patients across the country, 8,089 of which were vacant, 1,134 ICU beds, 661 of which were vacant, 1,603 high flow nasal cannula and 1,619 beds with oxygen concentrators.
There are empty beds according to the official count, but the district level hospitals are struggling to provide proper treatment to the patients, as many hospitals do not have skilled staff or a central oxygen supply system, said sources.
Dr Farid Hossain Miah, director (Hospital and Clinic) at DGHS, told TBS, "Currently, all the medical college hospitals have a central oxygen supply system. Work is underway to set up ICUs and oxygen lines in district level hospitals."
"We have all the preparations, but if people are not aware, it will be difficult to deal with the situation even by increasing the readiness of the hospital," he added.
Deaths are higher outside Dhaka
The Khulna division recorded the country's highest number of deaths from Covid-19 for the second consecutive day as 32 and 28 deaths were reported on Sunday and Saturday respectively.
Among other divisions, Dhaka came second with 21 deaths followed by Rajshahi where 12 people died from the virus in the last 24 hours.
Besides, nine of the deceased were from Chattogram, four from Mymensingh, two from Sylhet and one each from Barishal and Rangpur divisions.