Bangladesh reported 201 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, the highest one-day strike since the pandemic began in March last year.
It was the first time the death toll had crossed the 200 mark in a 24-hour cycle in the South Asian nation of about 165 million people, bringing the death toll to 15,593.
A previous day’s high of 164 deaths was recorded on Monday. The first week of July saw 1,090 deaths, which is also the highest each week during the pandemic in the country.
A total of 11,162 people have also been diagnosed with the disease in the last 24 hours, bringing the total count to 9,777,668, officials said Wednesday.
With coronavirus cases and deaths hitting new records, Bangladesh on Monday extended a one-week national closure.
The Delta variant of the coronavirus, first identified in neighboring India, is behind the deafening infection in Bangladesh, disrupting its health system and raising fears of a medical oxygen crisis.
The variant touched on Bangladesh’s border regions in the northern and south-western regions last month and is now spreading in the urban and rural areas of the country.
The most active variant
Tahmina Shirin, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Al Jazeera that they found the Delta variant in 78 percent of the total samples they sequenced. last month.
The IEDCR first detected the Delta variant in Bangladesh on 8 May. In the following month, they found that the variant already had community transmission in the country.
While the districts bordering India, including Dinajpur, Chapainawabganj, Pirojpur, Khulna and Satkhira were first witnessing the proliferation of the Delta variant, it has now begun to dominate transmission in Dhaka, including Shirin.
“We believe that the tight lockdown has helped slow down the spread of the Delta variant but has not been able to stop it completely,” he said.
Shirin said people who had received two vaccines against the coronavirus were also found to be infected with the Delta variant.
“Yet our best chance of fighting this variant is to vaccinate completely,” he said.
Only 3 per cent of the population of Bangladesh has received both doses of the vaccine.
After a promising start earlier this year, the country’s inoculation program took a hit after India, faced with a second deadly wave of the virus, stopped exporting AstraZeneca shots.
The vaccination program, however, was reinstated over the weekend after Bangladesh received 2.5 million doses of Modern vaccine from the United States and two million doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China.
Experts concerned as the festivities began
Meanwhile, experts are worried and fear the worst in the coming days as two potential “super-spread” events – the famous beef market and Eid al-Adha – are near the cantonment.
Before the Muslim holiday every year, several makeshift camps were set up mainly in Dhaka and in the port city of Chattogram where cattle traders from all over the country sold the sacrificial animals. Millions attend these markets.
The two largest cities also witnessed an exodus of millions of people taking trains, buses, ferries and private vehicles to get to the countryside to celebrate the holiday with their families.
Bangladesh’s infectious disease expert Be-Nazir Ahmed told Al Jazeera that the government should extend the tight block, which ends on July 14, to Eid al-Adha.
“The government should also prevent livestock traders from coming to the capital from the countryside, particularly from districts bordering India where COVID infections are in their infancy,” he said.
Ahmed said that if the lockdown is relaxed and people are allowed to move, the country could witness “a big COVID explosion” after the Eid al-Adha festival.
“The number will be huge. We will face a situation like India faced just months ago, ”said Ahmed, former director of disease control at the Directorate General of the Bangladesh Health Service (DGHS).
DGHS spokesman Nazmul Islam said government policy makers are aware that the situation is likely to worsen if the lockdown is relaxed before the Muslim holiday.
“If the current trend of cases continues, then the tight lockdown could be extended,” he said.
Islam said the government is currently focusing on raising the number of hospital beds and ensuring adequate manpower in COVID-19 hospitals.
“On the other hand, we are also examining the need for the creation of rural hospitals, particularly outside of Dhaka,” he said.