The government has adopted contradictory policies to tackle Omicron transmission as it is going to impose restrictions on one hand, keeping various public gatherings open on the other, public health experts said.
Health authorities in Bangladesh have flagged Dhaka and Rangamati districts as "red zones" due to high infection and death rates from Covid-19 and its Omicron variant.
In the next five to six days the number of hospitalisations from Covid-19 will increase in the country, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said at a function yesterday.
The minister also said 15% of the total Covid patients in the country are infected with the Omicron variant.
The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on Wednesday published a list categorising the different coronavirus-hit districts into three zones – red, yellow, and green – based on the severity of the pandemic.
According to official statistics, the infection rate in the capital currently stands around 12.90% and in Rangamati 10%.
An international trade fair is going on in the capital city, while city corporation elections are set to take place, offices, educational institutions, factories, shopping malls and courts are also open amid the rising transmission rate.
Public health experts said the government's 11-point movement restriction decision including 50% passengers in public transport, dining in restaurants showing vaccine cards etc as a fragile step to tackle the future Covid crises.
Dr Abu Jamil Faisal, a public health expert and a member of the Public Health Advisory Committee of Covid-19, told The Business Standard that Covid transmission is rising alarmingly and it is not possible to implement 11-point restrictions by keeping the trade fair and elections open.
If it is difficult to implement lockdown, use of masks has to be made mandatory to reduce transmission, he said.
Referring to the helplessness of the health minister regarding implementation of instructions, Professor Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and member of the National technical Advisory committee on covid-19 told TBS, this indicates that the health guidelines are prepared and issued for implementation without specifying who will implement the decisions.
"Who will check the vaccine card at the restaurants?" he asked.
"Keeping all the public gatherings, office open, the decision to transport 50% passengers in public transports will augment the public sufferings only without bringing any effective result," Prof Nazrul noted.
When asked why all these public gatherings like city corporation polls, trade fair and other activities are not stopped when the government is imposing restrictions from 13 January, Zahid Maleque expressed his helplessness, saying: the health ministry can create awareness, provide treatment, highlight the problems and suggest the government. But the health division cannot clear the roads. There is a ministry to implement that.
"The cabinet division has issued 11-point restrictions which will be implemented from tomorrow [Thursday]. All types of social, political and religious programmes have to be limited and stopped and discouraged. Tourism is being discouraged," the minister said.
"Those who work outside must wear masks.
"If these are not complied with, people will be penalised – with jail term and fine – through mobile courts," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, another three cases of Covid patients infected with Omicron were detected Wednesday totalling 33, Germany's Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) reported the new cases on Wednesday.
The health minister however warned that there is a capacity to treat Covid patients in the existing 20,000 beds. If the number rises to 40,000 or one lakh, there will be no capacity to treat this additional number as every country has a certain level of capacity.
Bangladesh has reported 2,916 Covid cases along with four deaths in the last 24 hours till 8am Wednesday, which is the highest in the last four months.
Also, the positivity rate rose to 11.68% as 24,964 samples were tested across the country, according to the data released by the DGHS.
With the latest additions, the death toll reached 28,111 and the case tally climbed to 16,01,305 in the country.
Lockdown not a solution, we must keep going: FBCCI Chief
The viable solution to curb the upward trend of Covid-19 cases cannot be another lockdown, according to the President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries, the apex trade body of the country, Jashim Uddin.
"We find it (lockdown) worrisome as no country in the world has ever succeeded by imposing lockdown. Lockdown is not a solution. The more lockdowns a country has had, the more damages its economy incurred. Some countries even reported a 10% negative growth," Jashim Uddin said while speaking at the "Meet the Reporters" programme organised by Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) on Wednesday.
Bus fares not to be hiked now
Public transports will operate buses at half capacity with existing fare.
Nur Mohammad Majumder, chairman of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), made the disclosure after a meeting with stakeholders on Wednesday.
Representatives of various organisations including Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association and Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation were present at the meeting.
The cabinet division on Monday issued a notification directing the authorities to run buses with half of their capacity from 13 January to control the spread of Covid-19 infections.
The bus owners started putting pressure on the government to increase the fare soon after the directives were announced.
To resolve the matter, the BRTA held a meeting with the concerned stakeholders when it was decided that the buses will operate at half capacity without increasing the fare.
However, the transport owners put forward a demand to carry passengers at full capacity.