04/21/2020, 16.40
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COVID-19 is spreading: 100 deaths and 170 infected doctors

by Sumon Corraya

Bangladesh fears that, with its 165 million inhabitants and a density of 1,265 people per sq. km, the outbreak could spread further. The most serious problems are the lack of protective gear for doctors, or its low quality, as well as too many people staying in close proximity, and sick people hiding their symptoms. In Rajshahi the diocese is helping poor and unemployed tribal people.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The COVID-19 is spreading more and more in the country. Yesterday 492 new cases were reported, the highest number in a single day, whilst the death toll reached 101.

Bangladesh has been battling the coronavirus since 8 March, when three people tested positive. Overall, 2,948 people have been infected with 85 currently under treatment in a special hospital.

The most worrying fact is that at least 179 doctors are among the infected. What is more, Health Ministry data indicate that only six healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, midwives) are available per 10,000 people; this in a country with a huge population (165 million) and high density (1,265 people per sq. km).

The Health Ministry has also reported that at least 130 nurses and service staff have tested positive for the virus, whilst 400 doctors are under observation and quarantined at home.

For experts, the main reason for the high rate of infection among the medical staff is the "low quality" of the protective gear given to them, plus people staying in close proximity with each other, and patients hiding COVID-19 symptoms.

Many people remain unaware of the danger whilst others hide the disease and are not quarantined. Many people go shopping and come into contact with others, or attend crowded funerals.

Two days ago, despite the full lockdown, at least 100,000 people attended the funeral of Zubair Ahmed Ansari, an Islamist preacher in a village in Brahmanbaria district, about 100 km from the capital. The police try to control the crowd to little avail.

At the same time, those who fight coronavirus – doctors, nurses, volunteers – are being socially excluded, driven from the flats or rooms they rent. Yesterday, in Kushtia, a landlord banned a nurse from his building.

The lockdown of economic activities has pushed up unemployment and poverty. The government is providing aid but many local officials have been using it for their own benefit. At least 14 corrupt officials have been fired in connection with aid distribution.

Fear of contagion has led many private hospitals, diagnostic centres, and dispensaries to shut down. This has deprived many non-COVID-19 patients of needed treatment. As a result, in the past 24 hours, some 200 people have died from cough, fever, breathing difficulties and diarrhoea.

For Dr Mustak Hossain, an adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), "the death rate in Bangladesh is very high compared to other countries infected with the coronavirus. All this is very worrying.”

Many members of Bangladesh’s Catholic community are tribal, who are marginalised because of their faith and ethnicity and are now unemployed.

“We are raising money from wealthy Catholics and cooperative credit organisations to help the neediest tribal Catholics,” said Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi.

The prelate explained that those in need are receiving money to buy food, since members of tribal groups cannot go out to find day work.

“So far, we raised 550,000 takas (about US$ 6,500),” he noted. Many other dioceses in Bangladesh are doing the same.

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