POST TIME: 7 April, 2020 00:00 00 AM
Community transmission of COVID-19 has begun in Bangladesh: Experts

Community transmission of COVID-19 has begun in Bangladesh: Experts

The government's disease control agency and the health agency have hinted that the novel coronavirus has spread through community transmission in the country in the last two days. Even heath experts agree on this. However, health officials continue to deny mass-scale community transmission of the coronavirus in Bangladesh. They say community transmission is indeed happening, but it is limited to five clusters across the country. As of yesterday, a total of 123 people got infected with the coronavirus in Bangladesh, but only 16 of them had travelled abroad. Among the returnees from abroad, the highest number of six came from Italy, followed by three from the US and two from Saudi Arabia.

In addition, the positive cases include one each from Germany, Bahrain, India, Kuwait, and France, as per data compiled by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).

The data clearly shows people who came in contact with the returnees were largely infected by the virus.

The director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Dr Abul Kalam Azad, in a virtual press briefing yesterday (Monday) said the evidence of cluster-based transmission has been spotted.

"We’ve found cases in 15 districts, but we’re considering those as clusters where two or more patients have been identified within a close area. We’ve found such clusters in Dhaka city's Basabo and Mirpur areas (64 patients in Dhaka). In Narayanganj (23 patients), Madaripur (11 patients) and Gaibandha (five patients) are four clusters," he noted.

According to IEDCR, The other patients have been identified in Rangpur (seven patients), Jamalpur (three patients), and Chattogram (two patients), while one each has been detected in Cox's Bazar, Comilla, Shariatpur, Gazipur, Faridpur, Chuadanga, Narsingdi, Moulvibazar and Sylhet.

On March 25, the IEDCR director, Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, said they suspect community transmission of COVID-19 has been taking place, but on a limited scale in two areas of Bangladesh.

But, on Sunday, Dr Meerjady confirmed five clusters of coronavirus infections across the country, which was also echoed by DGHS's Abul Kalam yesterday.

The IEDCR director also said on Sunday that infections were largely concentrated, often within a family and its circles.

However, experts have said that some small-scale community transmission has already started to happen and it is a dangerous sign.

Talking to The Independent, Dr ABM Abdullah, personal physician of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said there is

another way to stop COVID-19—by strongly enforcing social distancing. “Some small-scale community transmission has already started to take place, and it is a dangerous sign. Any further spreading of the disease must be stopped before it wreaks havoc,” he added.

“If needed, the government can impose curfew to maintain physical distancing among people. The IEDCR or the health directorate of the government can’t do anything alone to stop community transmission of COVID-19. Common people must understand that by maintaining distance and keeping personal hygiene, the spread of the virus can be stopped,” he observed.

Dr Abdullah said massive gatherings might take place on occasions like Shab-e-Barat and Pohela Baishakh. “Those gatherings must be stopped. People need to understand that this is no time for celebration,” he added.

Dr Shahnila Ferdousi, director of the Centre of Disease Control (CDC) of DGHS, has denied mass-scale community transmission of the virus in Bangladesh.

She told a news outlet that limited-scale community transmission in five cluster areas does not mean that the virus has already spread across the country.

“The IEDCR has identified the areas where limited community transmission of COVID-19 has taken place. Appropriate measures to contain the transmission are being taken in those areas,” she said.

According to the World Health Organisation, community transmission of novel coronavirus "is evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples (routine systematic testing of respiratory samples from established laboratories)."

On March 22, a man died of COVID-19 in Dhaka’s Mirpur area. It was found that the deceased’s neighbour had also died of the same disease at Delta Medical College and Hospital two days earlier, on March 20. Surprisingly, they were not returnees from abroad.

Some two weeks later, on April 5, when Bangladesh confirmed 18 positive cases in the previous 24-hour span, IEDCR director Dr Meerjady confirmed the five clusters identified across the country—Mirpur, Basabo, Narayanganj, Madaripur, and Gaibandha.

"These clusters have a higher number of patients than the rest of the country. In Basabo, 11 patients have been identified and the same in the Mirpur area. We are closely monitoring the cluster areas and taking necessary actions,” she said.

However, experts warned that widespread community transmission might start if public gatherings are not stopped.

Though people from different communities have been getting infected with the virus, IEDCR still considers returnee expatriates as the major source of the disease transmission.