Despite Steep Rise in Cases, Bangladesh Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions for Eid

BenarNews staff
Bangkok, Dhaka, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur
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Despite Steep Rise in Cases, Bangladesh Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions for Eid People board an overcrowded ferry to get home to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, after the government imposed restrictions on long-route public transport due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, in Munshiganj, Bangladesh, May 10, 2021.

Bangladesh on Wednesday will lift strict nationwide COVID-19 curbs for nine days to accommodate Eid-ul-Adha celebrations, the government announced Tuesday, a decision that an expert from a state-run institute warned against amid soaring infections from the highly contagious Delta variant.

People from the Muslim-majority South Asian nation traditionally travel to their home villages to join their families in celebrating Eid-ul-Adha. Bangladesh on July 21 will observe the second biggest holiday on the Islamic calendar. The strict lockdown will resume for two weeks, starting July 23, according to a notice circulated by the government.   

But Dr. Mohammad Mushtuq Husain, chief consultant at the government’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), urged the cabinet to rethink its decision.

“Given the gravity of the pandemic, there is no scientific ground to relax the ongoing lockdown. This relaxation for nine days would cause a spike in COVID-19 cases,” Husain told BenarNews.

“The hospitals are full with no spare ICUs. So, I would urge the government not to lift the lockdown.”

Bangladesh recorded 12,198 new coronavirus cases in on Tuesday, the second highest single-day mark since the pandemic began. In addition, the country reported 203 virus-related deaths during the same period. Nearly 17,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, which on Friday surpassed the 1 million mark for cumulative cases.

The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is causing havoc in Southeast Asian nations as well, where daily new infections and virus-related deaths are breaching previous highs and have pushed nations’ health systems to the brink.

Since early June, coronavirus cases have exploded in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s most populous country. On Tuesday, it recorded its highest daily rise in new cases with 47,899 infections, which was double that on July 1. Exactly a month earlier, daily new cases were at 4,824 nationwide.

Neighboring Malaysia also reported a new high in daily infections, which, at more than 11,000 on Tuesday, was close to double that recorded on July 1. And Thailand’s daily infections rose to 8,658 cases, data showed – a three-fold increase since a month ago.

Sinovac ‘couldn’t create sufficient immunity’

In Thailand, Dr. Yong Poovorawan, a leading virologist who serves on the government’s coronavirus task force, defended a move to administer a mix of coronavirus vaccines, after a WHO scientist had raised concerns about blending shots.

Thailand plans to give AstraZeneca jabs to those who have received the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine as their first jab, after unconfirmed reports about the low efficacy of Sinovac – an inactivated vaccine – and the weekend death of a nurse who was given both shots of the Chinese jab.

Frontline workers who have received both Sinovac jabs, will be given a third jab from an mRNA, or Messenger RNA vaccine.

Currently, a little more than 12.9 million people in Thailand have been inoculated with at least one jab of either Sinovac, or Sinopharm, or AstraZeneca, statistics from the task force showed. Of them, just over 3 million have received two jabs of one of the three vaccines.

Dr. Yong said that lab tests done on 42 recipients, who had received a booster shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine on top of a shot of Sinovac, showed they were more immune to the virus.

“When we used two jabs of Sinovac – an inactivated vaccine – they couldn’t create sufficient immunity to the Delta variants,” Yong told BenarNews.

“But when we inoculated [them] with one Sinovac shot and followed it with an AstraZeneca jab as a second shot the immunity grew rapidly in six weeks’ time, though not as high as [in those with] two AstraZeneca shots.”

On Monday, Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization in Geneva, responded to reporters’ questions about whether it was safe to mix jabs of vaccine.

“We are in a data-free, evidence-free zone as far as mix-and-match is concerned,” she told a press briefing. “So we really want to caution folks.”

Last week, a Thai association of doctors petitioned the government to acquire at least 100 million doses of mRNA or Messenger RNA coronavirus vaccines which, they said, provided greater immunity.

The Thai government last week agreed to order 20 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by U.S.-based Pfizer but maintained another order of nearly 11 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine.

‘Going to be a shortage of isolation beds’

Like Thailand, Indonesia plans to give a third vaccination to many of the 1.47 million medical workers inoculated with Sinovac, using a jab developed by Moderna – another American drug firm – to protect them from the Delta strain.

An Indonesian volunteer group that keeps tabs on pandemic data, LaporCOVID-19, said more than 1,100 health workers had succumbed to the virus since the start of the pandemic. At least 85 had died this month although some had been fully vaccinated with Sinovac.

Indonesia so far has received 115 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine.

On Sunday, Indonesia took delivery of 3 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, which were shipped there as part of 4.5 million doses pledged to the country by Washington. 

Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday that if COVID-19 cases kept climbing, hospitals in Jakarta and Yogyakarta would be overwhelmed because their bed occupancy rates were currently at over 90 percent. 

“There’s going to be a shortage of isolation beds and ICUs,” Budi said.

In Yogyakarta, the government plans to convert wards for general patients into those for coronavirus patients only, while in Jakarta, large hospitals could be designated to treat COVID-19 patients exclusively, Budi said.

Ahmad Arif, an initiator of LaporCOVID-19, said hospitals in parts of Java had effectively collapsed, an assertion that Ministry of Health spokeswoman Siti Nadia Tarmizi denied.

“They are not collapsed. Yes, hospitals are strained, which has forced doctors and nurses to work extra,” Siti said.

More than 36.3 million Indonesians have received at least the first dose of a vaccine. 

Cases expected to rise in Malaysia

In Malaysia on Tuesday, the authorities temporarily shut a COVID-19 vaccination center in Selangor state after 200 staff tested positive for the virus.

Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister in charge of vaccinations, said he had ordered mass testing at that center after receiving a report that two volunteers had tested positive. 

“The mass testing was done on July 10 on all of them and to date 204 of them [out of 433] are positive,” Khairy said. He also said that 400 of the workers there had been vaccinated, but he did not say which jabs they had received.

Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah, meanwhile, said he anticipated that coronavirus cases would rise for another week or two before stabilizing. 

Hospitals already are operating at capacity in the greater Kuala Lumpur area. In preparation for a potential rise in infections, the authorities are increasing the number of beds in hospitals, Health Minister Adham Baba said.

Eleven percent of Malaysia’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while around 25 percent have received a first jab.

Jesmin Papri in Dhaka, Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok, Ronna Nirmala in Jakarta, and Hadi Azmi and Noah Lee in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.


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