Bangladesh reported 201 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, the highest number of deaths in a single day since the pandemic began in March last year.
In this South Asian country with a population of approximately 165 million, the death toll in a 24-hour cycle exceeded 200 for the first time, bringing the total death toll to 15,593.
A one-day high of 164 deaths was set on Monday. There were 1,090 deaths in the first week of July, which is also the week with the highest number of deaths in any week during the pandemic in the country.
Officials said on Wednesday that a total of 11,162 people had also been diagnosed with the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 9,77,568.
As the number of coronavirus cases and deaths hit a new record, Bangladesh on Monday extended its strict nationwide lockdown for another week.
The delta variant of the coronavirus was first discovered in neighbouring India. It was behind the surge in infections in Bangladesh. Its medical system was overwhelmed and raised concerns about the medical oxygen crisis.
The variant hit the border areas of northern and southwestern Bangladesh last month and is currently spreading rapidly in urban and rural areas across the country.
The most active variant
Tahmina Shirin, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) in the capital Dhaka, told Al Jazeera that they had found 78% of the Delta variant in the total samples sequenced in the past month.
IEDCR first detected the Delta variant in Bangladesh on May 8. In the following month, they discovered that the variant had spread in the country.
Shirin said that although the areas bordering India, including Dinajpur, Chapainawabganj, Pirojpur, Khulna and Satkhira, first witnessed the spread of the Delta variant, it is now also beginning to dominate the spread of Dhaka.
“We believe that the strict lockdown will help slow the spread of the Delta variant, but it has not completely stopped it,” she said.
Shirin said it was also found that people who had been vaccinated twice with the coronavirus were also infected with the Delta variant.
“Our best chance against this mutation is still to be fully vaccinated,” she said.
Only 3% of the Bangladeshi population received two doses of the vaccine.
After a good start earlier this year, the country’s vaccination plan was hit as India faced a deadly second wave of the virus and stopped exporting AstraZeneca vaccine.
However, after Bangladesh received 2.5 million doses of Moderna vaccine from the United States and 2 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China, the vaccination plan was revitalized over the weekend.
As the celebration begins, experts are worried
At the same time, experts are worried and worried that the worst will happen in the next few days, because two potential “super communicator” events-the famous bull market and the Eid al Adha-are approaching.
Every year before the Muslim holidays, there will be some temporary camps, mainly in Dhaka and the port city of Chatugem, where cattle merchants from all over the country sell sacrificial animals. Millions of people participate in these markets.
The two largest cities have also witnessed millions of people travel to the countryside to celebrate holidays with their families by trains, buses, ferries and private cars.
Bangladeshi infectious disease expert Be-Nazir Ahmed told Al Jazeera that the government should extend the strict blockade that ended on July 14 to Eid al-Adha.
He said: “The government should also prevent cattle merchants from coming to the capital from rural areas, especially from areas bordering India, where COVID infection is at its peak.”
Ahmed said that if the lockdown is relaxed and people are allowed to move around, then after Eid al-Adha, there may be a “major COVID explosion” in the country.
“This number will be huge. We will face the situation that India faced a few months ago,” said Ahmed, the former director of disease control at the Bangladesh Directorate of Health Services (DGHS).
DGHS spokesperson Nazmul Islam said that government policymakers are aware that if the blockade is relaxed before Muslim holidays, the situation may worsen.
“If the current trend of cases continues, then the strict lockdown may be extended,” he said.
Islam said the government is currently focusing on increasing the number of hospital beds and ensuring that COVID-19 hospitals have sufficient manpower.
“In addition, we are also carefully reviewing the need to establish field hospitals, especially outside Dhaka,” he said.