For almost last two years, COVID-19 pandemic has become a harsh part of our lives. Around 270 million cases of COVID-19 were detected globally so far while 5.3 million people lost their lives from this deadly virus. As we have a sigh of relief about the containment and control of this pandemic, the virus reappears in new forms. Alpha, Beta, Delta and now Omicron. On all cases, Bangladesh paid the price for its late reactions and went through two strong waves. Omicron can bring the third or according to many fourth strong waves of COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh while Delta still remains the greatest threat despite the strong nationwide vaccination drive. Hence, we must not ignore the upcoming threats which can heavily distort our lives and national economy.
Bangladesh on Saturday reported its first two cases of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant that has already spread to nearly 80 countries since its first detection in South Africa about a month ago. Considered more transmissible than the other variants of the coronavirus, including Delta, this COVID-19 variant was detected in two women cricketers who returned home on December 1 after attending the cricket world cup qualifier in Zimbabwe.
Bangladesh has made institutional quarantine mandatory for returnees from some countries in Africa but is struggling to implement the requirement with inadequate facilities at airports and land borders. The health minister disclosed on the last day of November that the 240 people who had returned from Africa had gone missing, mostly providing wrong contact information. Authorities launched a nationwide hunt for tracking down the Africa returnees in order to keep them under watch.
The health minister on Saturday urged the people to get increasingly vaccinated. The government has decided to start administering booster doses of COVID vaccine to people aged 60 and above as well as to front-liners in a week or two. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also instructed the health ministry yesterday to start booster doses soon.
More than 85 million people that is, around 53% of the targeted population received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while over 41 million people or 26% of the targeted population received two doses of the vaccine in Bangladesh till December 12, 2021. Due to the strong vaccination drive, especially at city areas, COVID-19 transmission has dropped significantly in Bangladesh. But yet Delta and Omicron remains a great threat to the people and economy.
The emergence of Omicron has caused many countries to re-impose restrictions. UK has declared ’emergency’ after the outbreak. More than four months before Omicron was detected, Bangladesh saw the worst COVID-19 wave, caused by the deadly Delta variant, first detected in India, after the emergence of the disease in the country on March 8, 2020. The Delta variant, first detected in Bangladesh on May 8, caused an outbreak with 30 per cent daily test positivity sustained over a month at its peak.
The outbreak started declining in August. The test positivity rate in the country has been below 2 per cent for about a month. The overall death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 28,031 and the total number of cases to 15,79,710 in Bangladesh so far. The COVID-19 cases are again increasing during the past few days.
No death has been attributed to infection caused by Omicron in the world so far. The Alpha variant, first detected in the UK, had been the predominant COVID variant until February this year before being replaced by the Beta variant, first detected in South Africa, which ruled between March and April but weakened in May, according to an IEDCR report. The Delta became very dominant during May to August this year.
Though it is under analysis if the current COVID-19 vaccines can be effective against Omicron variant, these vaccines helped reducing the transmission and severity of the previous variants so far. As Delta still remains the deadliest COVID-19 variant, it is important that all the people receive vaccines. Bangladesh till now ordered 323.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine among which 70 million Janssen vaccine and 40 million Sputnik V remains out of the scene. Bangladesh received 90.3 million doses of vaccines till now and received another 22.1 million doses as gift.
To continue with COVID-19 transmission containment, we must continue with the vaccination drive. These vaccines can provide immunity to human bodies for around a year at most. Hence, many are reaching the expiry period of the vaccine’s effective period soon. Hence, they will require new doses at least booster doses. Though the health minister has declared that, the booster dose will be given soon, especially to the elders and the frontliners, many experts believe that, we are still not at a stage to administer the booster doses as many are in line to receive their first dose. Hence, it is of utmost importance that, we have plenty of vaccines on hand with increase capacity to conduct the vaccination drive.
Globe Biotech’s vaccine BangaVax was allowed for clinical trial and if it passes, it will be the first approved COVID-19 vaccine of Bangladesh. The government should put extra focus on that. Moreover, The Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA) has granted Beximco, Square, Eskayef and Renata pharmaceutical companies approval for the production and marketing of Molnupiravir, the first-ever Covid-19 pill developed by US drug maker Merck & Co Inc. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. The government should emphasize on introducing this medicine in Bangladeshi market soon considering the possibility of next wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We cannot really depend on the vaccine purchase or gift for long as COVID-19 may stay with us for years. It is important that, we produce our own vaccines as we have good capacity either by inventing one of our own or by getting patent from one of the leading global vaccine producers. Bangladesh government must put all its focus on this area. If we cannot have vaccine stock in our hand, we will face severe difficulties in the near future as within next few months a majority of the vaccine receivers will require new doses along with the ones who are still to receive the vaccines.
Moreover, as we have controlled COVID-19 transmission with the favor of the nature for some reasons along with the ongoing vaccination drive, we are completely ignoring the COVID-19 protocols. A major part of people infected with Omicron variant worldwide are those who received full doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Moreover, we are heavily dependent on manpower export for our remittance income and if the COVID-19 situation worsens deeply at home, then we might receive sanctions against that resulting in immense pressure on the economy.
Hence, we cannot ignore the COVID-19 health safety protocols and the government must emphasize on that with rigorous awareness campaign. Along with that, the government must follow the global COVID-19 situation cautiously and control the borders on time if required. We cannot be late this time to respond. Our callous behavior can put us in lots of trouble.
Being an economy in challenge, Bangladesh has faced the economic impacts of COVID-19 quite strongly under the farsighted leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But if COVID-19 pandemic puts us in challenge again, it will be very difficult to recover and our development and progress during the last decade will be under jeopardy. So, we must remain cautious and proactive in facing the challenges thrown by this deadly pandemic. We hope everyone responsible will not only act but will act smart this time.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela