Bangladesh braces for coronavirus threat

Jakia Ahmed
Published : 23:21, Jan 27, 2020 | Updated : 00:14, Jan 28, 2020

A picture released by the Central Hospital of Wuhan shows medical staff attending to patient at the The Central Hospital Of Wuhan Via Weibo in Wuhan, China on an unknown date. THE CENTRAL HOSPITAL OF WUHAN VIA WEIBO/Handout via REUTERSThe government is putting in a slew of precautionary measures to meet the challenge posed by the new coronavirus outbreak in China with experts saying that risks are high in densely-populated Bangladesh.
The death toll from the fast-spreading virus rose to 81 in China on Monday (Jan 27) with more than 2,800 infected.
The virus has already spread to more than 10 countries including the US, Japan and neighbouring India. The small number of cases confirmed outside China is linked to people who travelled from the country, but no deaths have been reported elsewhere.
Though any case of the new coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, is yet to be confirmed in Bangladesh, the country faces risk over the outbreak given the number of travellers to and from China, says the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control Research (IEDCR).
"It's true that Bangladesh is in risk considering the deep [investment and trade] ties with the country," IEDCR Director Meerjady Sabrina Flora told Bangla Tribune on Monday (Jan 27).
As precautionary measures, the international airports have already started thermal screening of passengers, she said before adding: "In line with the World Health Organization's advice, the Health Directorate has formed a specialists' team with the US' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], which is responsible to assess the daily situation and chalk out the next steps. The landports have been alerted as well."
In densely-populated Bangladesh, the risk of an outbreak is very high given the transmission ability of the virus, say experts.
"Any kind of virus spreads fast and this new virus is spreading exponentially. It has spread outside China within a few days," said Kabirul Bashar, a Zoology professor of the Jahangirnagar University before adding the risks are high in an over-populated city like Dhaka.
Passengers arriving from Guangzhou, China, wear masks at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay, Philippines, January 23, 2020. REUTERSDescribing the virus as "super spreader", Bangabandhu Medical University's head of Virology Saifullah Munshi, however, emphasised on training for doctors and nurses to deal with it.
"It took two months to spread SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] and four months for MERS [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome], but this virus has spread to several countries in less than a month," he told Bangla Tribune.
According to him, airports should not be the only entry points to be focused. "A suspected case has been reported in Kolkata, which means the virus can enter through [people coming through land] borders," said Munshi.
A Chinese national, suspected to be infected, has been admitted in a hospital in the West Bengal capital of Kolkata on Sunday (Jan 26) while the country's health ministry said on Friday (Jan 24) that four persons, who returned from China,were kept under observation in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
China's National Health Commission said on Sunday that the transmission ability of the virus is getting stronger and infections could continue to rise.
According to it, the authorities' knowledge of the new virus was limited and they are unclear on the risks posed by mutations of the virus.
The incubation period for the new coronavirus can range from one to 14 days, and that the virus is infectious during incubation, which was not the case with SARS, a coronavirus that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people globally in 2002 and 2003.
Bangladesh Society of Medicine President Ahmedul Kabir, however, fears that the new virus might also spread in Bangladesh through bats.
"It's winter now and there's a relation between bats and date sap," he told Bangla Tribune in a clear reference to the spreading of Nipah virus by consuming date sap infested by bats.
Chinese researchers believe the new coronavirus may have been transmitted to humans from snakes, which in turn may have got it from bats. The virus is believed to have originated late last year in a food market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife. Both animals were known to have been sold at the market.
At the weekly Cabinet meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered government officials to stay fully alert in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading to Bangladesh.
“The prime minister said we must be more alert and attentive to the threat. We must thoroughly screen passengers coming into the country from China,” Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told the media.
“Everyone must be careful. We need to set up special quarantine measures in airports and ports so that it doesn’t spread in Bangladesh.”
Officials monitor thermal scanners at a temperature monitoring station at Macau International Airport in Macau, China, January 8, 2020. Picture taken Jan 8, 2020. MACAU SAR HEALTH BUREAU/Handout via REUTERSThe authorities have been instructed to keep an eye on passengers arriving in the country from China or Hong Kong, according to Anwarul.
Ports receiving goods directly from China will also be under the scanner.
The government's health division has told all state-run hospitals across the country to open isolation units as a precaution.
Director General of Health Service Adul Kalam Azad gave order on Monday during video conference with the regional directors and civil surgeons across the country.
Initially, isolation units will be opened at all the state-run hospitals in district towns and medical college hospitals, Information Officer of Health Division Sheikh Akkas Ali told the BSS.
Azad asked the officials and authorities concerned to ensure medical screening of all international passengers coming airports, landports and seaports.
The Chinese National Health Commission's chief said on Sunday the current outbreak was spreading "relatively fast" and "now entering a more severe and complicated period", reports Reuters.
Last Thursday, the World Health Organization called the outbreak an emergency for China, but stopped short of designating it a global emergency.
Coronavirus infections have a wide range of symptoms, including fever, coughing, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Severe cases can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death. Many of those who died had pre-existing medical conditions or were elderly, authorities have said.