Amid the rise in cases of the Omicron variant worldwide, the Bangladesh government on Tuesday issued a 15-point guideline to prevent infection by the highly-transmittable African variant of Covid-19.

In a notice, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) said health examining, tests and screening of passengers arriving from Omicron-hit countries must be strengthened at all types of ports.

It also discouraged all types of social, political, religious and other gatherings and stressed that maintenance of health guidelines on public transports must be ensured.

Earlier in the day, talking to reporters at the secretariat, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said that the authorities were not thinking of enforcing a lockdown now even though several states in neighbouring India, plagued by Omicron, had imposed curfews and closed schools.

“We have plans to enforce lockdown only if infections surge and the situation gets out of control. For now, we are thinking of putting some restrictions, including having public transport operate at half capacities and closing shops and markets by 8pm,” he said.

Measures will also be taken to strengthen the screening process along the border, he said, adding: “Some 20,000 hospital beds are also ready… if the number of patients rises.”

Maleque said fresh restrictions would be issued within a week. “The Cabinet Division on Monday decided to implement these restrictions within 15 days. However, the virus can spread rapidly in 15 days. That is why we have decided today [Tuesday] that the restrictions must be enforced within seven days. The cabinet secretary also agreed on this.”

The deputy commissioners of all districts have been asked to strictly enforce the directives right away, he said.

Later, the DGHS issued the guidelines that also include –

People must follow all essential health rules, including wearing face masks while going outside the home.

Limiting dining facilities at restaurants should be ensured.

Limiting people’s gatherings at different places including tourist spots, recreation centres, resorts, community centres, cinema/theatre halls and social programs should be ensured.

Health rules, including wearing facemasks, must be maintained at all places of worship, inclusive of mosques.

14-day quarantine is a must for passengers arriving from Omicron-hit countries.

All educational institutions (madrasah, pre-primary, primary, secondary, higher secondary and universities) and coaching centres must maintain health rules.

Healthcare professionals and health service recipients must follow heath guidelines strictly.

Unvaccinated people must receive first and second doses of Covid-19 vaccines from vaccination centres.

Suspected Covid-19 patients, positive patients and other people who have come in close contact with patients have to be kept in quarantine.

Suspected Covid-19 people have to be kept in isolation as well as brought under a testing facility.

Wearing face masks must be made mandatory at offices, besides maintaining other health rules and vaccinated people must wear face masks while going outside.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, virologist and National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 member Dr Nazrul Islam said lockdown was never an effective solution for Bangladesh considering the large population.

“I have said this over and over again. The government needs to focus on accelerating the vaccination drive, making sure people are following the health guidelines, particularly wearing masks in public,” he stressed.

Highest daily cases in 13 weeks

Meanwhile, the country’s total Covid-19 caseload went up to 1,587,915 after health authorities recorded 775 more cases in the 24 hours till 8am on Tuesday, the highest single-day tally in 13 weeks.

It was on October 4 last year when the country recorded more Covid-19 cases – 794 – than on Tuesday.

With the latest cases, according to the DGHS, the daily infection rate rose to 3.91% from Monday’s 3.37%. Dhaka recorded the most cases – 655 – among the eight divisions.

The country’s total death toll also rose to 28,087 with six more deaths during the same 24-hour period.

Another 253 people recovered from the illness as well, bringing the total number of recoveries to 1,549,557.

The latest figures put the recovery rate at 97.61% and the mortality rate at 1.77 %.

Delta still dominant

On Tuesday, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Director Prof Dr Tahmina Shirin also attributed the recent surge in Covid-19 cases to people’s unwillingness to follow hygiene rules as well as the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.

The discovery of the Omicron variant has sparked global concern but Delta is still to blame for the current surge in cases around the country, she said. “Even in November, 100% of Covid-19 patients were infected with the Delta variant.”

Driven by the Delta variant, the country saw a significant increase in the number of cases and deaths in mid-2021. The daily figures dwindled in August and the daily infection rate had remained around 1% throughout early December, before hitting a three-month high of 3.37% on Monday.

However, the IEDCR has yet to complete the genome sequencing of the samples collected in December, said Dr Shirin.

“Health guidelines are the same for everyone. [But] people at weddings or polling centres are not masking up,” she said.

The Delta variant may still be dominant but Omicron cases are set to rise in urban areas, IEDCR consultant Prof Dr Mushtuq Hussain told Dhaka Tribune.

“I think Omicron is spreading in clusters now but it may end up spreading rapidly. Since it is more infectious, it just may overwhelm hospitals with critical patients,” he warned.

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