The country has reported five cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Four of them had recently returned from abroad – three from Italy and one from Germany. The other is a close contact of one of the returnees from Italy.
Europe is now the epicentre of the global pandemic with Italy the worst affected country.
Bangladesh on Saturday night announced a two-week suspension on entry of passengers from the European countries, except the UK, to stop importing coronavirus cases.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Sunday said the decision was driven by the angry protests by over 100 people before they were released from a quarantine facility, a step the authorities appear to have made reluctantly.
More than 600,000 people have entered the country since Jan 21 when the virus started to spread from China.
The government urged all the travellers who have entered Bangladesh recently to self-quarantine and formally asked over 2,000 of them to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus, to stop a possible spread.
“We can’t tell them anything because they are our relatives. But panic has set in among all of us. Maybe they are not infected, but they should have been alert,” said a resident of the area.
“You can catch a shoal of fry from a bucket, but you can’t catch the shoal when you release them with the others in a pond,” virologist Professor Dr Nazrul Islam told bdnews24.com, speaking about the release of the returnees after hours of quarantine.
A lack of awareness can lead to a deadly coronavirus epidemic in Bangladesh, the former vice chancellor of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University fears.
“It’s alright for the people in home quarantine to be told to follow the guidelines properly. But what if they don’t do it?” he asked, questioning the government decision to limit its duty to asking the people to self-quarantine.
He said the others at the homes being used as quarantine may also get catch the virus if they do not use proper equipment for protection.
Nazrul advised institutional quarantine for the people returning from coronavirus-hit countries. He said educational institutions, besides hospitals, can also be used as quarantine facilities.
On Sunday, the government toughened its stance in a bid to make the returnees follow the guidelines to the letter. A man from Saudi Arabia was penalised in Manikganj for not self-isolating at home.
Meerjady Sabrina Flora, the director at the government’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said the authorities have kept with them the passports of the returnees from Italy who went home.
“Our local committees are monitoring them. But it will be difficult to tackle a pandemic if the people don’t cooperate. We didn’t want to use force so as to ensure the people’s enthusiastic participation. That’s why we asked them to be in home quarantine,” she said.
“If they still wouldn’t listen to us, we will take a hardline. We will take appropriate measures for institutional quarantine if the breach of rules continues,” she added.