Reopening public transport may intensify pandemic

Reopening of public transport services may cause further deterioration in spreading of the highly contagious coronavirus in Bangladesh, experts fear. 

They said the country may face a further increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths if it reopens public transport movement without fully implementing the health safety and hygiene measures.

The national technical advisory committee, formed to recommend strategies to fight corona outbreak, warned about the possible negative impact through a statement after a meeting on Thursday.

It should be mentioned that the government has decided to reopen offices and allow public transport movement on a limited scale. The country had imposed a lockdown from March 26 last due to the outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide. 

As part of the lockdown, public holidays had been announced and movement of all the transports had been suspended.

However, the authorities have recently taken a decision to operate a limited number of public transports carrying a limited number of passengers on roads, railways and waterways from May 31.  

Officials of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said that a limited number of buses and passenger river vessels would run from Sunday ensuring social distancing and following other health regulations to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The Railways Ministry has also taken a decision to operate around eight to 10 intercity trains from Sunday with half the number of passengers the trains could carry.

In this circumstance, citing experiences of other countries, the national technical advisory committee members expressed fear of a rise in the disease if normal life is restored before the rate of infection comes down to a ‘certain level’ which may be safe enough.

A rapid rise in coronavirus cases will create heavy pressure on the health care system, they added. The committee also suggested leaving hydroxychloroquine out of the guidelines on treatment for COVID-19.

The World Health Organistion had warned of the risks of using the malaria drug (hydroxychloroquine) in COVID-19 treatment. The European Union has also banned the drug for COVID-19 patients.

The national committee advised against use of ivermectin, convalescent therapy and other drugs outside clinical trials. It said members of the public should not use those drugs and therapy.

The experts believe the health ministry was right to order all the hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients along with others.

They emphasised the need for administrative and organisational staffing and logistics in preparations for treatment of COVID-19 patients in all hospitals.

On Thursday, Bangladesh’s coronavirus infections surged past 40,000 after daily caseload crossed 2,000 for the first time. As many as 15 new deaths yesterday took the toll to 559.