Bangladesh opts to continue air flights to and from the United Kingdom, the hotspot assumed to be spreading more contagious Covid-19 strain, while the country's institutional isolation centres are in a shambles – which experts fear may intensify the coronavirus situation.
The health experts are critical of government measures at the country's airports and institutional quarantine centres, and termed those "insufficient and inappropriate" to deal with the second wave of the virus that has already hit many countries.
Inbound passengers who arrive at the airports without Covid-19 certificate are sent to the institutional quarantines, but are released just after their Covid-19 tests come negative.
Referring to the changing patterns of the virus infections, virologists, however, say the passengers might develop the virus symptoms after being discharged after Covid tests in Bangladesh.
Besides, they advocated for all passengers from the UK and South Africa – even with a Covid-19 negative certificate – to be placed under at least a three-day isolation.
Dr Shahriar Sajjad, health desk in-charge of Shahjalal International Airport, told The Business Standard that they refer the individual to a hospital if he or she is screened with a high body temperature.
He said passengers without the negative certificate are sent to Diabari and Ashkona Hajj camp isolation centres. Passengers who come with a Covid-19 negative certificate are sent to home quarantine.
Dr Shahriar said four passengers were sent to institutional quarantine from the airport in the last 24 hours until 8am Tuesday.
Bangladesh not considering travel ban with UK
Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mofidur Rahman said Bangladesh is not considering fresh restrictions on flights with any country amid the spread of the new coronavirus strain.
He also said that considering the country's economic condition, measures would be taken to reduce the risk of further infection without shutting down air connections.
"Some countries have suspended flights with Britain. They can afford it as they would not face problems if the connectivity is cut off. However, we have to think about our economic condition. Given the current situation, I do not think it is time to stop the flights," Air Vice Marshal M Mofidur Rahman added.
At present, the national flag carrier Bangladesh Biman is operating four flights with the UK per week.
Mohibul Haque, senior secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, said that they were still observing the situation.
"We are closely monitoring it. No decision has been made yet. Action will be taken after understanding the situation," he told the press at his office Tuesday.
Covid-19-free certificates no longer "enough"
Prof Liaquat Ali, a biomedical scientist and also a member of the government public health advisory group, said, "If the air communication cannot be suspended, flights should be monitored closely. Passengers arriving from the two countries must be kept into at least 3-day quarantine. None should be allowed to enter the country showing Covid-19-free certificates only."
Currently, incoming passengers from the two countries with a Covid-19 negative certificate do not need to stay in institutional quarantine.
"For many passengers, the virus can be pre-symptomatic and they are likely to come negative in virus tests. But the result might be the opposite if they are diagnosed after a three-day quarantine," he added.
He noted that the spread of the new strain in Bangladesh could crush the healthcare facility already burdened with coronavirus patients.
Couple of days quarantine "meaningless"
Around 170 passengers in Diabari and five in the Ashkona Hajj camp – two government facilities in Dhaka to isolate air passengers without Covid certificate – were in institutional quarantine until Tuesday 3:00 pm.
While visiting the two centres Tuesday, the gates were found closed.
Wishing anonymity, an in-charge of a quarantine centre said they do the RT-PCR test of the passengers within 24 hours of their arrival.
"If they are found negative, we send them to home quarantine. If anyone comes positive with the virus, we send him to hospital."
However, Dr Jahidur Rahman, assistant professor of the virology department of the Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital, said, "The quarantine for just a couple of days is meaningless. The symptoms may take 14 days to develop if a passenger contracts the virus."
"The new strain of the virus is 70% more contagious than the current one. We should suspend all flights with the UK now. At least, incoming flights from London must be suspended and there is no alternative to it," he added.
Land ports also unmoved
The land ports of the country are still not concerned about the new strain of coronavirus.
Md Mamun Kabir Terafder, deputy director (Traffic) of Bangladesh Land Port Authority, told TBS that twelve land ports including Benapole and Akhaura are in operation now.
"In association with the health authorities, we are maintaining the safety guidelines at the ports. However, the health directorate is yet to issue any new guideline for us as we came to know about the new strain," he added.