Amid a sudden upsurge in coronavirus cases, health experts fear that a highly transmissible variant of the deadly virus might have appeared in Bangladesh through mutations.
They think a comprehensive study and genome squeezing is necessary to examine whether the mutations have led to the new variant contributing to the upsurge in Covid cases in Bangladesh.Meanwhile, a team of Bangladeshi researchers in collaboration with Monash University in Malaysia found that coronavirus mutated 4,604 times in Bangladesh from April to December last year.
Examining 371 genome sequences of the virus, they found 34 unique mutations in Bangladesh.
The researchers laid emphasis on conducting more research on the unique mutations as they think any of them can be deadlier and the cause of the recent spike in the virus cases.
Causes behind fresh wave
Talking to journalists, noted virologist Nazrul Islam, a member of the national technical advisory committee formed to tackle Covid-19, said it seems that a fresh wave of the coronavirus has begun in the country.
“The first wave of the virus hit the country affecting the unimmunised raw population. But there’re now many immunised people who have the antibody. Despite that, the virus is rapidly increasing which is a matter of deep concern,” he said.Nazrul said people are hardly concerned about the health safety rules like wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing and washing hands with soap, helping the virus spread fast.
He said it is a fact that the UK variant has been detected in Bangladesh in January last which is contributing to the rise in the virus. “But I think a new strong variant may appear in Bangladesh like in South Africa through unique mutations of the virus. We should look into the matter”
Public health expert MH Chowdhury (Lenin), chairman of the medicine department at the Health and Hope Hospital, said the coronavirus is now spreading faster than the previous wave, infecting young people more.
“The condition of the patients coming to hospitals is deteriorating fast. Low fever, body-ache and cough are the major symptoms of the virus-infected people, mainly the young and middle-aged ones.
Lenin said systematic studies and genome sequencing are now necessary to know which variants are now actively prevailing in the country. “It’s also necessary to know whether new mutations make the virus more dangerous or easily transmittable in the country.”
Law enforcement essential
Prof Nazrul said masking up is a major preventive measure against the coronavirus. “But many people don’t wear masks. They should be forced to do it by enforcing laws. If necessary, I think, Army personnel should be deployed to ensure cent percent mask use.”
From their technical committee, Nazrul said, they advised the government to focus on mask use and stop unnecessary gatherings. “But we’re frustrated that no effective measure has been taken to implement our suggestions.”
Dr Lenin said the government should involve the people of all walks of life, including public representatives, to encourage people to use masks, maintain health safety rules and receive the vaccine.
Besides, Lenin said, the government should focus on checking public gatherings through imposing restrictions on different meetings, events, and social functions.
He said the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) should again resume regular coronavirus briefing to provide people with necessary information and guidelines from there.
Lockdown not a good option
Prof Nazrul said the DGHS recommended enforcing lockdown to control the fresh spike in the virus infection, but the government has no capability to do so. “We saw people did not help the government contain the virus last year when they faced sufferings caused by the lockdown. So, I think we should take other preventive measures instead of restricting people’s movement this time.”
Echoing Nazrul, Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS, said lockdown is not a good option to contain the virus in a populous country like Bangladesh where people exhibit unruly behaviours.
“The government could not enforce lockdown last year. So, I think, we shouldn’t think about lockdown as it will only harm the economy and disrupt the normal life of people,” he viewed.
Contact tracing better
Dr Be-Nazir said the virus is still increasing mainly in Dhaka and Chittagong cities. “But I fear it’ll continue to spread to other cities if we fail to contain it with appropriate measures right now.”
He said extensive tracing, strict, quarantine, isolation, adequate and repeated testing are necessary to prevent the further spread of the virus. “Many countries like China, Thailand and Australia controlled the virus transmission following these rules.”
Dr Be-Nazir said contact tracing is an essential part of controlling the coronavirus outbreak as early identification of contacts of confirmed cases followed by their isolation can help break the chain of transmission.
The expert also said home isolation is not an effective way either as the Covid patients who stay at home can spread the virus to their family members. “So, we should increase the isolation centres now. We can select the areas where the infection rate is high and keep people in isolation centres through contact tracing.”
Health Ministry can’t control it alone
Public health expert Dr Abu Jamil Faisel, a member of the DGHS’ Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Committee, said their committee suggested the government involving all ministries and the people of all walks of life to control the fresh Covid wave.
“Many may think that it’s the responsibility of the Health Ministry to contain the virus. I think the entire government and all ministries should take this responsibility and play an active role in tackling the pandemic,” he observed.
Faisel said the government still could not motivate people to help it contain the virus. “We won’t be able to tackle the corona situation without people’s cooperation.”
If the virus cases continue to grow, he said, the government should suspend long-distance bus services, impose restrictions on gathering tourist spots, and social and political gatherings.