Gone are the times when people hoped for a better world at the end of each year. For the past two years, the end of the year has come with fears of possible Covid-19 surges and the emergence of new variants.
Bangladesh identified as many as 513,510 cases till December 31 during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic here. The number rose to around 1,584,518 owing to the Delta variant, which originated in India and the South African Beta variant.
The new variants caused another wave of massive infections that lasted over seven months.
However, the health authorities, despite grappling with the rush of infections, managed to make the Covid-19 vaccination programs a reality.
By the end of 2021, the Bangladesh government had inoculated over 73.5 million people who received at least a single dose of the vaccine.
Dominance of Beta and Delta variants
The year started with a decreasing trend of infection rate that came down to under 2% from 8% within two months. But from early March the infection rate started increasing.
It reached as high as 23.57% on April 9, which was later found to be dominated by beta variants.
The prolonged second wave witnessed another higher infection rate on July 24 with 32.55%. Starting from early March the wave reportedly stopped in early November.
The sudden rise of Covid 19 during March-April and July-August saw a shortage of Oxygen supply and the health ministry along with the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) were forced to upgrade government healthcare facilities.
Building healthcare capacity
The government has on multiple occasions promised a building up of the capacity of the health sector.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque on different occasions said the authorities had installed a central oxygen line in over 130 upazilas, districts and tertiary level hospitals across the country. He also referred to work on installing the facilities at all upazila level hospitals in phases.
During this time the health authorities claimed that they had increased the number of general beds to 13,500 while the number of ICUs were increased to 1,219. They also ensured installing over 700 HDUs in different districts, including government and non-government health care.
According to DGHS data, almost half the districts do not have any ICUs or HDU facilities but are equipped with central oxygen lines at the government hospitals.
However, work on installing the central oxygen system is still in progress at the hospitals in Jhalakathi, Habiganj and Netrokona. Hospitals in at least six districts in Chittagong Division, Panchagarh and Moulovibazar do not have centralized oxygen lines.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 test capacity has been increased to 60,000 people per day, according to health officials.
Vaccines, boosters and Omicron
The nationwide inoculation program got underway in Bangladesh on March 7 after vaccinations started worldwide in late January.
However, the country saw a crisis in the vaccination process when India halted the export of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine following the surge in Covid-19 cases brought on by the Delta variant in the neighbouring country.
The government halted registration for the vaccine in April and resumed it in early July after receiving Sinopharm and Moderna doses from China and the United States.
The government continued its negotiations and finally secured the supply of around 310 million doses of vaccines for the country.
According to the health minister, the government has targeted vaccinating eligible people within May or June of 2022 while the booster doses will also continue. He said that the country would need 280 million doses of vaccines to inoculate the targeted people.
The government also started administering booster doses after the Omicron variant was identified in the country. As of December 29, at least seven cases of Omicron have been found.
According to the DGHS, 15,415 people have received their booster doses till December 29. Over a 73.5million people got the first dose while over 51.5 million people have received the second dose as well.
Some 3,403,069 students received at least the first dose till December 29, according to data.
The health authorities have urged people to adhere to health rules as Omicron has been spreading in the country.