Dhaka, Bangladesh – Bangladesh has reported a record-high number of daily COVID-19 infections as the government moved to ban flights from several countries in an attempt to stem surging cases.
On Thursday, 6,469 people were diagnosed with the disease in the preceding 24 hours, bringing the South Asian nation’s cumulative caseload since the beginning of the pandemic to 617,764.
The country also reported 59 deaths, the highest daily figure since June 30 last year when the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) reported 64 deaths from the coronavirus. A total of 9,105 people have died from COVID-19.
The number of daily infections had started to decline in mid-December, reaching a low of 305 on February 6, but in mid-March, the number of new infections began to rise.
Following the surge in COVID-19 cases, the government has imposed a new set of restrictions, including a ban on all public gatherings in areas with high infection rates.
It also said that occupancy on public transport would be limited at 50 percent and motorbike ride-sharing services would be closed.
The South Asian nation on Thursday announced it would ban air travellers from the European Union and 12 other countries, including Bahrain, Brazil, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, South Africa and Turkey. The two-week ban will come into effect from Saturday.
The country’s Election Commission meanwhile has postponed elections for some union councils and municipalities which were scheduled on April 11.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told the parliament on Thursday that the country may need a partial lockdown similar to one imposed during the country’s first wave.
“We had been able to contain the virus but in the last few weeks, the COVID-19 cases are increasing all throughout the world. We have to be very careful,” she told the parliament.
Vaccine rollout under way
Bangladesh started its nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign on February 7 and has administered more than 5.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to date.
Hasina said that as the country began its vaccination rollout, some people became less careful about taking precautions to stop the spread of the virus.
“I cautioned it for a number of times that even if you get vaccinated, you should wear a mask and maintain social distancing. People seem to pay no heed to such warning,” she said.
Virologist Mushtaq Hossain told Al Jazeera that compared with other countries like the United States and Brazil, Bangladesh has not been hit hard by the virus, which has led to people underestimating its dangers.
“This has led people to believe that the virus is not that dangerous,” he said.
“People are now gathering in numbers in tourist destinations, and in weddings. When the virus first hit the country in last year, they frenetically emptied the shelves of the pharmacy and supermarkets to buy hand sanitisers. Now, they barely wash their hands,” said Hossain, who is an adviser at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
Hossain said he was alarmed that “most of the recent cases have been among young people, and many of them have had to be admitted to intensive care units (ICUs).”
Health Minister Zahid Malik warned that if the cases of the virus continue to surge like this, “the hospitals will no longer be able to accommodate and treat patients.”
Hospitals in Bangladesh only have a total of 1,169 ICU beds for a population of some 160 million people.
“We urge everyone to wear the masks and follow the health guidelines released by the government,” Malik said.