Bangladesh to announce new curbs to combat omicron ‘in days’

In the wake of a recent spike in daily infections, the health directorate on Tuesday issued a list of 15 restrictions to limit the spread of the fast-spreading coronavirus strain.

The curbs include more health tests and screenings of people entering the country, limits on social, political and religious gatherings, use of masks outdoors and operating public transports at half capacity. Restaurants can offer dine-in services at half capacity.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Lokman Hossain Miah, secretary to the Health Services Division, said, “A notice [on the new restrictions] can be issued at any time. You may get it within the next couple of days.”

Spurred by the delta variant, COVID cases and deaths peaked in Bangladesh between June and August 2021 before tailing off towards the end of the year.

But over the last couple of weeks, there has been a marked uptick in infections and on Wednesday, Bangladesh saw its biggest single-day jump in cases since September 29.

Meanwhile, the country has also detected 10 cases of omicron so far, prompting speculation on whether the new strain is fuelling the sudden surge in infections.

Addressing the situation, Additional Director General of DGHS Ahmedul Kabir said, “A surge is indicative of the arrival of a new strain. Infections wouldn’t increase if that wasn’t the case.”

He pointed to the worsening situation in India, which is grappling with an outbreak of omicron, as a worrying sign for Bangladesh.

New COVID-19 cases in India surged to 58,097 on Wednesday, a doubling of the daily tally over the past four days. It also reported its first COVID-19 death linked to the omicron variant in the western state of Rajasthan. Meanwhile, omicron cases in the country have risen to 2,135.

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“The situation in our neighbouring country India is not good,” said Prof Ahmedul. “Whenever something happens in the neighboring country, its impact is usually felt in our country. It is safe to say that infections will increase.”

He also warned about the risks surrounding large gatherings in the circumstances and advised against holding any new elections after the ongoing local government polls end.

In the wake of the surge in infections, Health Minister Zahid Maleque had said the government would announce new curbs to combat omicron in a fortnight’s time.

But on Tuesday, he acknowledged the need to fast-track the implementation of the curbs and said those would be enforced within seven days.

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