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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DHAKA: Bangladesh on Wednesday began observing an eight-day lockdown, ordering the closure of all offices and international and domestic transport to push back a second wave of coronavirus infections and ease pressure on overwhelmed hospitals and health workers.
As of Wednesday, which also marked the start of the Bengali New Year and the first day of Ramadan for Muslims in the South Asian nation of 160 million people, health authorities had recorded 703,170 cases and 9,987 deaths since March last year.
With nearly “6,000 to 7,000 infections recorded every day,” intensive care units in the country’s hardest-hit areas are at breaking point.
At the same time, authorities said that the rapid surge in COVID-19 infections had taken a serious toll on the country’s health system in the past couple of weeks.
“Every day, 6,000 to 7,000 people are getting infected with the virus. If we can strictly maintain the lockdown for a week, the number of new infections will reduce,” Dr. A.S.M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Arab News on Wednesday.
“We have no other option. It’s a question of saving people’s lives,” he said.
Dr. Alamgir added that authorities were working round the clock to add more ICU beds at health facilities.
“Preparations are underway to launch a field hospital in Dhaka with 250 ICU beds and 1,200 beds. We are expecting to add 200 ICU beds in all government-run hospitals in the next three weeks as well,” he said.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), there are nearly 2,600 general and 130 ICU beds in government hospitals in Dhaka, the capital, in addition to 800 general and 200 ICU beds in private facilities.
Professor Dr. Benazir Ahmed, a renowned public health expert, said that the “current state of the outbreak had become a cause for great concern” with persistent cases and deaths in recent weeks.
“Bangladesh should go all out with its preventive measures to control and manage the cases,” he told Arab News on Wednesday.
“There should be national, district and sub-district level COVID-19 patient management committees with adequate financial and human resources . . . and a national contingency plan for coordinated management from grassroots to national level utilising all existing health resources in the country,” Dr. Ahmed, former director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), said.
Under the week-long lockdown, which ends on April 21, all government, non-government offices and shopping malls will remain shut while public transport services, international and domestic flights will remain suspended.
All stores, except those supplying food, will remain closed as well.
The stricter restrictions have also marred the new year celebrations in the country, which saw the “Pohela Boishakh” — or the first day of Bengali New Year — celebrated with much enthusiasm.
“We have to remember that the lives of the people come first. If (we) survive, we’ll be able to rearrange everything,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said during a televised address to the nation on the eve of the Bengali New Year on Tuesday.
“There’s no need to be worried; the government is always beside you. I have taken steps for the poor and lower-income people after the second wave hit the country,” she said.
As part of its measures to help the public, the government has initiated a special aid program targeting nearly 13 million ultra-poor people.
“We have already allotted around $70 million to distribute as relief aid to the poor people. Some of them will receive cash, and others will have food support,” Mohammad Mohsin, senior secretary of the Disaster and Relief Management ministry, told Arab News on Wednesday.
“The district administration, in coordination with local public representatives, will disburse the relief. If the government extends the lockdown period, we are ready to increase the aid amount and take necessary steps reviewing the situation,” he said.
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