Covid horrors in terms of infections and deaths have been ebbing away in countries that could quickly immunise a large part of the population, helping their economies rebound with renewed vigour.
Bangladesh saw an impressive start of its countrywide vaccination programme on 7 February with the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses, targeting people aged 40 and above. The country immunised more than 1% of its population in just 12 days and stood second in terms of vaccination in South Asia.
On 24 February, Bangladesh ranked 24th globally – still second in South Asia.
The second dose vaccination started on 8 April and roughly 13% of those who had received the first dose completed their second round by 13 April.
But as the supply of the Oxford vaccines from the Indian Serum Institute became uncertain with rapid infection surge in that country, Bangladesh's immunisation programme hit a snag.
The government suspended administering the first dose and as of 11 May the country had a little over 9 lakh shots.
Only 3.6% people have been brought under the vaccination coverage in Bangladesh, with 2% of the population receiving both the doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Availability of enough vaccines – even new ones – to achieve herd immunity has become uncertain now.
Experts fear that the disrupted inoculation process accompanied by cycles of rising infections and deaths will only keep the economy from bouncing back.
Amid this situation, the gatherings in markets and shopping malls and the home-rush ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr are raising the risk of the infection curve climbing again. Trapped in the cycle of rising infections, the government has kept extending lockdown.
All these indicate a prolonged pandemic in the country, cutting a deeper wound into public health and the economy.
The virus can be contained either by mass vaccination or by strictly following social distancing through movement restrictions.
While several rich countries have adopted one of the strategies and successfully broken the cycle of virus transmission, middle-income and poor nations, particularly in Asia, such as Bangladesh and India, are combating new surges in infections.
Israel has already withdrawn many virus restrictions after 60% of its population received at least one shot. Educational institutions are open and masking in public is not compulsory now.
Both the US and the UK are on a faster-than-expected recovery path following a wide coverage of vaccination that tamed infection transmission. Businesses have been gradually reopening there.
China and Vietnam have continued to bounce back from pandemic recession on the back of swift and decisive containment measures.
Singapore, which topped Bloomberg's most recent Covid resilience ranking, now sees infections in the community reaching double digits, making its recovery path bumpy.
A third of the island nation's population got at least one vaccine dose so far and a wide inoculation has been planned as the next few weeks are seen to be critical.
Other Southeast Asian economies are also confronting challenges, with the Philippines and Malaysia experiencing new infections while Thailand and Indonesia signaled weaker growth.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Prof ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services, said the Eid crowds were threatening to cause a third wave of infections and deaths immediately after the second wave.
Amid the fear, experts say that reaching herd immunity by giving two shots to 12 crore people each within a short span of time is not feasible for Bangladesh.
Vaccination at best can reduce mortality and morbidity, said Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.
Depending on only one source, the government had planned to give jabs to 1.5 crore people but that too became uncertain, he said. "Had we vaccinated people above 50 years and those in the red zones only, we would have reduced the number of deaths. Now, we are trying to bring Chinese and Russian vaccines but that will take time."
Bangladesh should participate in vaccine research and production, Sayedur added.
Efforts to get vaccines
The country will receive 5 lakh doses of Chinese vaccine made by the state-owned company Sinopharm as a gift on Wednesday.
Those who have already registered for the vaccine but have not received the first shot yet will get the Chinese vaccine. But the purchase of 4-5 crores of doses from China is still under discussion, said Health Minister Zahid Malik.
"China wanted to conduct a trial of the vaccine, but when it wanted money from us for the trial, we did not agree. Now, we want to buy vaccine doses from China."
Talks are on for two deals – one for direct purchase and another for producing the vaccine locally.
Bangladesh may start getting doses of the Chinese vaccine from June/July, the minister said.
On the possibility of getting Russian vaccine Sputnik V, Zahid Malik said an agreement on purchase will have to be finalised before the two countries start a discussion on how Bangladesh will procure the vaccine.
A process is also going on to get the doses of Oxford vaccine from India, which Bangladesh already paid for.