It’s time for all-out preparations to face the fourth wave of Covid
Bangladesh is experiencing a further increase in Covid-19 cases. In the first five days of July alone, 32 patients infected with Covid died, according to the health directorate. As of 6 p.m. on July 5, our total caseload stood at 1,982,972 since the pandemic broke out in the country on March 8, 2020.
This scenario reminds us once again of the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, even if sometimes – especially when Covid is less active – we seem to lose sight of it and take a more complacent approach in our fight against the pandemic. .
For some time now, Europe, the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia have been seeing an increase in Covid, with Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants accounting for many of these case. Both of these subvariants are highly contagious, classified as variants of concern by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and can easily navigate through the immunity provided by previous infections and cause breakthrough infections.
Traces of BA.4 and BA.5 have also been found in Bangladesh. Jashore University of Science and Technology was the first to report the detection of the sub-variants in June. And with the increasing number of cases, the footprint of these subvariants has increased.
In such circumstances, our immediate way forward is to reinforce and strictly adhere to safety guidelines. But even there, there seems to be reluctance on the part of the government. In view of the deteriorating situation, the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) for the management of Covid in Bangladesh, during a meeting on June 14, recommended the establishment of six restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19. infection. However, it wasn’t until June 28 – two weeks after the NTAC meeting – that the Cabinet Division issued a notification about the new restrictions. Given the urgency, why did it take the authorities two weeks to issue the notification?
Likewise, people also seem reluctant to stay safe. They are rarely seen wearing masks in public: on the roads, on public transport, inside stores, in crowded elevators.
But then masks are a luxury for some – especially for rickshaw pullers, van pullers, hawkers and day laborers, for whom meeting basic daily needs is a challenge at present. And in the reality of inflation, for most — even in the middle class — masks would likely be at the bottom of the monthly grocery list. It should be noted here that the masks are no longer exempt from VAT, which means that their prices have increased. Why the authorities took such a decision is another question that cannot be answered without any logic.
What is even more regrettable is the irresponsible behavior of the people and institutions we consider responsible. Large crowded events such as Eid fairs, weddings, parties and official programs are in full swing. Now, with Eid-ul-Azha approaching, Covid cases are expected to increase, as as usual public transport will be running at overcapacity; buses, launches, trains and trawlers will be overcrowded with people returning home, turning them into ideal hotbeds for Covid breeding.
Given this, our medical professionals must prepare for a new wave of Covid cases. Although the government has done a commendable job in vaccinating over 70.4% of the population with two full doses of the coronavirus vaccine, this will not be enough to stop the spread of the sub-variants. Part of the solution could be found in the bivalent vaccine, currently under development. The bivalent vaccine works by “stimulating an immune response against two different antigens, such as two different viruses or other microorganisms”, according to the National Cancer Institute in the United States.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has asked Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to develop bivalent vaccines that could target both the original strain of coronavirus, as well as the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. , according to the FDA’s lead vaccine regulator, Dr. Peter Marc. The FDA expects this for fall recalls. However, for countries like Bangladesh, the challenge would be to obtain the bivalent vaccines.
A two-pronged approach could protect us from the shocks of the fourth wave of the pandemic. While full lockdown is not an achievable solution, especially given the economic pressures we already face, we also cannot allow the situation to reach a point where the only solution is a hard lockdown. Therefore, at this stage, we must focus on the strict implementation of social distancing and health security protocols. Since new variants are always active in small clusters, vigilant case surveillance, proactive contact tracing, immediate testing, and isolation if necessary would be essential to prevent the spread of new variants. At the same time, law enforcement officials should strictly enforce social distancing guidelines. At the same time, VAT on masks must be removed immediately. On the contrary, masks should be subsidized so that more of our population can afford them.
Vaccination is the other component of this two-pronged solution. The government must redouble its efforts to vaccinate the population with boosters and begin immediate inoculation of children aged 5 to 12 years. Additionally, it should start working now to secure doses of bivalent vaccines, especially for frontline workers and the elderly to provide them with the required immunity.
Global, combined and concerted efforts are our only weapons to defeat the fourth wave. With the holiday weekend approaching and then winter in a few months, vigilance, precaution and prevention must be on the agenda to deal with the fourth wave of Covid infections.
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. His Twitter handle is @tasneem_tayeb