Prof. Dr. Md. Belal Hossain
‘Virus’ is from a Greek word meaning ‘poison’ that was initially described by Edward Jenner in 1798. A virus is a highly contagious host-specific, non-cellular pathogenic organism, nucleoprotein particle and capable of replicating itself only in a host cell. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause serious respiratory illnesses that is common in different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, bats and in humans as well. They get their name from the crown-like spikes (from the Greek word corona) that can be seen on their surface with electron microscopic study as first identified by Dr. June Almeida in 1964 at her laboratory in St Thomas’s Hospital in London (Ref., Steven Brocklehurst BBC Scotland News, on 15 April 2020).
The new coronavirus outbreak was first observed on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the disease “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”) and the virus “SARS-nCOV-2”. Due to the severe outbreak on a global scale, WHO characterized it as a pandemic on 11 March 2020. The previous record was regarding the transmission of coronaviruses from animal origin to human, but the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) occurs human-to-human transmission through close contact.
Covid-19 affects the airways through breathing passages, or respiratory tract. Most common symptoms are fever, headache malaise, chills, cough dyspnea respiratory distress, diarrhoea that appear within 2-14 days after exposure. Although in a few cases the incubation period has been reported longer, more than 14 days.
A number of news items were published and broadcast in Bangladesh since January 2020 as Wuhan was identified as the epicentre of Novel Coronavirus. Most of the people in Bangladesh believed that the virus got into the masses in China due to non-Muslim (Haram) food habit and people of Bangladesh will not suffer from this Covid-19 issue. In the first week of February, while the virus was blown out to other provinces of China the number of infected people was dramatically increasing in Wuhan, and also started to be reported in many countries of the world.
Bangladeshi students studying in the Universities in Wuhan were recalled by the government of Bangladesh and sent to the government provided quarantine shelters for a couple of weeks. Until the end of February, it was not alarming at the mass level. But the bell rang among the members of the public when at the beginning of March, Italy started to suffer and by the end of the first week it spread to the regional level.
As a large number of Bangladeshi students and workers live in Italy, France, Spain and Germany, the panic started when thousands were coming back to Bangladesh daily by international flights. In the face of protests from the expatriates, the government allowed them to cross the immigration with letters for home quarantine to individuals. Bangladesh confirmed the first three Covid-19 cases on March 8. After that cases increased day by day (Ref., IEDCR website). Despite this fact, the expats were not maintaining the home quarantine rule and even some of them arranged their marriage ceremonies and some others went to attend this type of public events. After that, the Bangladesh government declared a ban on all the European flights. Even flights with transit passengers were banned from entering Bangladesh from March 16, 2020. Only the United Kingdom was an exception as the number of affected people in UK was low-slung at that time. This declaration came because two coronavirus positive cases were found from among the returning expatriates from Italy and Germany respectively.
The primary flight cancellation date was March 31, 2020 but later the government extended it until the next announcement. It was a matter of time, as people were expecting a lockdown or public movement control, followed in neighbour India. Bangladesh declared a complete lockdown on March 24, until April 4, 2020. Meanwhile, the number of infected cases had risen when Bangladesh went to the third stage of the Covid-19 attack. By the end of the first week of April, the virus spread out to the community level with its fourth level attack, and the government again declared a lockdown until April 25, 2020, and all the educational institutes were declared closed until the end of Covid-19 outbreaks, perhaps up to September 2020.
The current situation in Bangladesh as of the end of April 2020, the virus is in its fourth stage and spread out all over the country. The severity is higher in Dhaka district; Dhaka city, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Narshingdi, these regions are identified as red spots of Covid-19. So far, approximately 10,143 confirmed cases have been found from total 87,641 tests conducted, including an estimated 182 deaths and fatality rate 1.8%.
Although the number of confirmed cases and fatality rate is currently lower than other Covid-19 reported countries in the world, due to deficient testing facilities and inadequate number of samples being tested, the virus seems to be highly contagious in Bangladesh based on the number of infected cases to date.
The distribution of confirmed cases was analyzed and it was revealed that the percentage of disease severity is higher in the age group 21-30 years followed by 31-40, 40-50 and 50-60 years age groups. The disease’s severity in ≥60 and ≤20 years aged people is 8% and the lowest severity was recorded in ≤10 years aged people (children). It was also noted that the percentage of disease severity is higher in male (70%) than female (Ref., IEDCR website). The epidemic in Bangladesh is still evolving. Therefore, by these premature data from a few weeks, we can’t present the actual facts at this moment.
In the case of Bangladesh, we can find some of the incidents, those triggered negligence towards the impact of Covid-19. First of all, this pandemic was a social media troll at the beginning phase. During the first wave, social media trolling went viral and it was a fun fact in the country. At its second phase, when the country had its first positive case, people couldn’t have the idea of its impact in next few days. The government was yet to dispatch the border control units strictly and people around the world, especially form European countries like Italy, French, Spain, had a direct access to Bangladesh.
People were requested to go to home quarantine system but it backfired. The homecoming Bangladeshis organized social gatherings and even at weddings where others got infected by the virus. Many people were not aware of the situation and they refused to go for self-isolation despite the order from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Bangladesh. People took time to realize the vulnerability to the pandemic and didn’t care about the situation at all until the end of March. Prayer at mosques was still public, markets were crowded with people and public transports were used to transport people around the country despite the order of general holiday. Many rumours and fake news were published in this time period in social media. Most of them false claimed to have the cure of Coronavirus as non-medical people. Later, the government took strong steps to stop these hoaxes, but by the time a majority of people had gone through the unexpected hazards.
The government took time to announce the lockdown, in the aftermath people treated the situation as a general holiday. So people went decentralized and due to general holiday, they went to their birthplaces leaving Dhaka city. By this time, a group of young generation people started trolling on social media regarding the Covid-19 issue, the virus went to the third phase. After the fourth stage broke out in the second week of April, with the impact of COVID-19, people started to panic and some of the youngsters started to organize relief work. On the other hand, the government also stated relief funds and to distribute relief via the local authority. Unfortunately, corruption started at this stage and people did not get necessary funds and foods in rural areas where news of hunger came to the fore due to lockdown situation over the Covid-19 issue.
(The author is a professor and Team leader at the Molecular Virology Laboratory, Department of Plant Pathology, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka. E-mail: email@example.com, Cell -01711988444)
Prof. Dr. Md. Belal Hossain