Writing was on the wall
Most of the patients who started overwhelming the coronavirus unit of Rajshahi Medical College Hospital in the third week of May were from the frontier district of Chapainawabganj.
RMCH director Brig Gen Shamim Yazdani sensed the imminent danger as he knew their treatment capacity was limited compared to the suspected spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus.
He continued to insist local authorities to impose a lockdown in Rajshahi city and other districts of the region in this regard.
But they waited till Friday to pay heed to his recommendations.
From Friday afternoon, more than two weeks after the recommendations, the district administration in Rajshahi started imposing a seven-day "all-out lockdown" closing all markets, shopping malls and restricting all types of vehicular movement.
Railway authorities too suspended its services.
But by this time, the Indian variant has spread into communities, not only in Rajshahi, but also to different districts across the country.
Since May, the death toll due to this variant continues to rise.
On Friday, at least 15 people, including seven Covid-19 positive and eight suspected patients, died, raising the toll to 157 since May 24.
The report of two RT-PCR laboratories in Rajshahi on Thursday found that the coronavirus infection rate in Rajshahi district was 38.34 percent. In Natore the rate was 60.28 percent, in Naogaon 50 percent and in Chapainawabganj 39 percent.
Though the authorities continued to add more wards and beds to its corona unit, they were getting occupied by patients in no time.
"We tried our best to prevent the virus, but failed. It's too late now," Brig Gen Yazdani told The Daily Star on Saturday.
"There's no doubt now that it's the deadly delta variant and it has its grip on the communities," he said.
In the middle of May, when the virus gripped its hold on India, the RMCH director heard of "illegal intrusions" across the border.
He noticed the Eid crowd and preparations for mango trading.
Many workers returned home during the Eid holidays for mango trade while those who went to other areas for harvesting boro paddy also came back.
Brig Gen Yazdani said he had alerted the local administration first on May 17 and recommended a lockdown. Then he continued for over a week repeatedly asking the authorities to impose a lockdown.
A lockdown began in Chapainawabganj on May 24, but it was lifted after two weeks.
On May 29, the Directorate General of Health Services also recommended a lockdown in eight border districts of the country, including four in Rajshahi region.
In three districts of Rajshahi, Naogaon and Natore, the administrations did not do so for the upcoming mango season and trading.
On May 29, Rajshahi DC Abdul Jalil told the Daily Star, "Lockdown means loss. No one wants it. We must prioritise human life over livelihood, but we have to make sure of livelihood first."
Instead of a complete lockdown, the district administrations began observing nighttime restrictions from June 3.
On June 7, the district administration in Rajshahi began a programme to test people in the streets. Conducting rapid antigen tests among 297 people on the first day, they found 27 were infected.
Despite the presence of infected people in the streets, the authorities lagged behind and extended the nighttime restrictions by two hours.
That time, Rajshahi Mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton told reporters, "We have to protect people's livelihood as well as their lives. The mango trade involves crores of taka and livelihood of people. We've decided to monitor the situation for a few more days."
Three days later on Thursday night, Rajshahi's Divisional Commissioner Humayun Kabir announced the Friday's lockdown following an emergency meeting.
Even in early May, RMCH had 64 beds in five wards of its corona unit.
They continued to increase the capacity till last week of May and in last seven days they further extended the unit. As of Friday, there were 297 patients against 271 beds in its 10 wards.
The number of wards and beds has been gradually increased to accommodate patients from different districts of Rajshahi region, Joypurhat, Pabna, Kustia, Meherpur, Chuadanga and other districts.
On Wednesday, a new ward with 36 beds was added and it became full instantly, and still the corona unit has 20 additional patients.
"We are increasing the number of beds soon," the RMCH director said.
The hospital officials said more than 40 patients are being admitted every day. On Saturday, 43 patients were admitted at the unit. However, after recovering, 25 people were released.
"We knew from experiences of other countries that the virus will spread. That's why we alerted everyone. As they did not listen, we tried to increase our capacity as much as possible," said the RMCH director.
"The 18-bed ICU of the hospital remains full. If we're given fresh ventilators now, we have no infrastructure for installing those. Each of the 271 beds has central oxygen. We have 700 oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators for additional 183 beds," he said.
"Our main challenge is to prepare more beds and connect those to the central oxygen supply lines," he added.
He said the decision to declare lockdown was taken too late.
"It's better to take a decision... There is no substitute for caution. Though the situation is not alright, we can and are trying to manage it," the RMCH director said.