The challenge to contain the contagion seems to be getting bigger for Bangladesh after it has found the coronavirus variant blamed for the recent escalation of infections overwhelming Indian healthcare system.
Two major concerns are whether the vaccines that Bangladesh is going to import will be effective against the virus strain, and how far and wide it can spread through people who have been swarming markets, shopping malls, and ferries ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr.
The health directorate said the coronavirus variant had been detected in six Bangladeshis who recently returned from India through Jessore and Benapole.
Two samples were confirmed to carry the Indian variant whereas four other samples had close resemblance to it, according to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, and the Jessore University of Science and Technology that examined the samples.
Those infected by the strain have been undergoing treatment. No one of them is severely ill, said Prof Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services at a press conference on Saturday.
The strain is more contagious, which is why health guidelines should be strictly complied with now, she said.
"The health directorate is concerned over the new variant. People should be worried too."
Though the government closed the border with India for 14 days, starting from 26 April, amid a surge in infections, many Bangladeshis were allowed to enter the country with a Covid-19 negative report. They were put in mandatory quarantine.
The World Health Organization last week said the India variant had been found in over a dozen countries.
Besides, Public Health England on Friday said the coronavirus variant B.1.617.2, which had been first identified in India, would be classified as a variant of concern because evidence showed it was highly transmissible.
Coronavirus infections soared in India, setting a new world record for cases over the past few weeks.
The second wave of Covid-19 hit India with such ferocity that hospitals have been running out of oxygen, beds and antiviral drugs. India on Saturday registered 401,078 new cases of Covid-19, taking the caseload to over 21.8 million.
India's immediate neighbour Nepal has seen a sharp rise in infections too from April.
More than 40% of all Covid tests are returning positive, according to the Red Cross, citing government data.
"What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal's future if we cannot contain this latest Covid surge that is claiming more lives by the minute," said Nepal's Red Cross Chairperson Dr Netra Prasad Timsina in a statement.
Prof Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, told The Business Standard that apart from being contagious, the Indian variant makes children sick as well.
"We have to increase Covid tests in border areas and ensure strict 14-day isolation and quarantine of the returnees. We cannot afford to repeat the mistake we made with migrants from Italy last time."
Moreover, hospitals have to be prepared with enough oxygen supply, Nazrul said.
Dr M Mushtaq Hussain, adviser to the IEDCR, said the infection and deaths dropped because of the lockdown enforced two weeks ago. But the crowd in places, such as mosques and ferries, will give rise to infections again and the fallout will become visible two weeks later.
The detection of Indian variant adds to the concern, said Mushtaq, stressing the need for contact tracing and wearing masks, apart from isolation and quarantine.
Border with India shut for 14 days more
The government has decided to extend the closure of the border with India for another 14 days as the Covid-19 situation keeps worsening in the neighbouring country, reports UNB.
"It has been extended for another 14 days. The previous conditions will remain unchanged," Secretary (East) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mashfee Binte Shams told the news agency over phone.
The latest decision of the extension was taken at a virtual meeting held on Saturday with Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen in the chair.
Earlier, the government closed the border with India for 14 days with effect from April 26 but cargoes carrying goods were allowed to operate as usual.
As per the previous decision, general movements of humans between Bangladesh and India will temporarily stay suspended through land ports.
The Bangladeshi citizens currently travelling to India for treatment and having visas with validity for less than 15 days could enter Bangladesh through only Benapole, Akhaura and Burimari after taking permission from Bangladesh Missions in New Delhi, Kolkata, and Agartala and with a mandatory Covid-negative certificates done through PCR test within 72 hours of entry.
People entering Bangladesh through this process would have to stay officially quarantined for two weeks.
45 more dead in Bangladesh
Meanwhile, Bangladesh reported 1,285 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours till Saturday 8:00am, the lowest in 55 days.
Forty-five more people died during the time, taking the total death count to 11,878. The fatality rate was 1.54%.
The daily infection rate was 8.78% among 14,703 samples tested in 443 labs across the country.
Vaccine effectiveness against Indian strain
India is now administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Covaxin. It says the vaccines are effective against the Indian strain of the coronavirus.
The stock of Oxford vaccine that Bangladesh got from the Serum Institute of India is fast depleting. Against this backdrop, the government is considering importing Russian Sputnik-V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines.
But there are concerns over whether these vaccines will be effective against the Indian strain, said Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
No research has been done yet to find out the efficacy of the vaccines against the stain. So, the risk cannot be ruled out, Sayedur said.
Meanwhile, India's crematoriums and burial grounds are being overwhelmed by the devastating new surge of infections tearing through the populous country with a terrifying speed, depleting the supply of life-saving oxygen to critical levels and leaving patients to die while waiting in line to see doctors, reports AP from New Delhi.
India recorded over 4 lakh new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours ending 8 am Saturday, taking the country's total caseload to over 2.18 crore. Out of these, over 37 lakh cases are currently active while over 1.79 crore people have recovered.
With 4,187 new deaths, the toll now stands at over 2.38 lakh. At least 14 states are reporting cases in five figures.
Maharashtra reported about 54,000 cases, Karnataka had nearly 49,000, while Kerala had over 38,000.