The recent arrival of the double mutant Indian Covid-19 variant in Bangladesh is due to the lack of strict enforcement of institutional quarantine for those returning from India.
The government has found eight people infected with the Indian variant and all of them have entered the country through the Benapole land port.
Since April 26, around 2,500 Bangladeshis have entered through the busy port with Covid-19 certificates, according the Jessore Civil Surgeon office.
Of them, 128 went to different places of the country including Dhaka for medical treatment without completing mandatory 14-day quarantine.
"Even if one carries a negative certificate, the person can be Covid-19 positive anytime. That's why a 14-day quarantine is recommended," Dr Sheikh Abu Hanif, civil surgeon of Jessore, told The Daily Star yesterday.
The Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) on Saturday disclosed that it has found Indian variant in eight people, of which four are in Dhaka.
Soon after the announcement, the government extended the closure of borders with India for 14 more days since April 26.
Health officials said those who returned from India were supposed to stay in institutional quarantine. Instead, some of them travelled to Dhaka through various means, probably leaving a trail of the virus along the way.
Asked, Professor Tahmina Shirin, director of IEDCR, said of the those infected with the Indian variant, a few are in hospital and the rest have probably completed quarantine.
She also said it is too early to say whether the variant has already spread in the community.
"We did not find transmission of the Indian variant among the people who do not have travel histories. Even if it may have already spread into the community, detecting that will take time."
She also said they have been conducting contact tracing and some more genome sequencing on people who recently returned from India.
Health officials and experts already warned that the presence of the Indian variant is a matter of serious concern and if people continue to disregard health guidelines, the situation will go out of control at a time when the country is just recovering from the second wave of the pandemic.
"It was predicted that the Indian variant will come to Bangladesh. We were able to delay it. But the way things are now, the situation will be very grave in the coming days," said Professor Nazrul Islam, member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
Prof Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the pharmacology department at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said the variant has already spread to many parts of the world.
"So, banning entry from a single country will not bring any fruitful result. Our experience says we tried to ban the entry of people returning from UK to contain the entry of UK variant, but in the meantime the South African variant jolted the country's Covid situation."
Sayedur said there are two options – either to isolate Bangladesh from the rest of the world, which is not realistic, or to enforce 14-day mandatory institutional quarantine for all incoming passengers from abroad.
"We must strictly enforce quarantine. Many countries in the world are doing so."
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh yesterday issued a circular that no passenger from Nepal will be allowed to enter Bangladesh from today.
India's next door neighbour Nepal is facing a severe Covid-19 crisis as the Indian variant began showing up there as well, with a 1,200 percent increase in new infections, triggering hospital shortages, said International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The Nepal government said 44 percent of Covid-19 tests administered had come back positive last weekend. The country is reporting about 20 new cases per 100,000 people, a statistic similar to what India had two weeks ago.
The India variant known as B.1.617 was first detected in October last year.
It is far more transmissible than the virus's previous strains. Very recently, it was reported that the variant has three different subtypes with slightly different genetic mutations.
The subtype, B.1.617.2, found in Bangladesh, appears to spread quicker than two other subtypes detected by scientists in India.
India's crematoriums and burial grounds are overwhelmed by the devastating new surge of infections tearing through the populous country with terrifying speed, depleting the supply of life-saving oxygen to critical levels and leaving patients to die while waiting in line to see doctors, reports AP from New Delhi.