Bangladesh is going to make a no-Covid certificate mandatory for inbound passengers and quarantine the returnees with virus-like symptoms amid the infection fears prompted by the new Omicron variant, said a top health official.
"The variant is no longer limited within the South African region as several countries have reported Omicron cases. Therefore, we are planning to make an RT-PCR test report within 72 hours of flying and a vaccine certificate for passengers to enter Bangladesh," Prof Dr Ahmedul Kabir, additional director general of the health directorate, told The Business Standard on Monday evening.
He said an inter-ministerial meeting Tuesday could come up with the announcements.
At present, only outbound passengers have to go through Covid testing at Dhaka airport. Dr Ahmedul Kabir said health officials held several meetings on Monday on potential Omicron risks and preventive measures such as strengthening screening at the ports of entry.
In a separate development on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) called on member states to widen up Covid testing, saying the new strain's divergent design could fuel future surges of Covid-19 with severe consequences.
The variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November, and subsequently many nations hastily responded to it by cancelling air links with the South African countries.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque Saturday said Bangladesh was going to cut air links with South Africa. On Sunday, the health directorate issued a 15-point instruction including discouraging social, political and religious gatherings.
Neighbouring India on Monday announced its plans for tackling the spread of the new variant. The country made the RT-PCR test mandatory for inbound and connecting flight passengers from nearly a dozen countries, including Bangladesh, terming the nations risky.
"Lab data suggests that the variant is yet to enter Bangladesh," Dr Jahidur Rahman, a virologist and microbiology teacher at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, told TBS on Monday.
"India could have listed us as high risk due to Bangladesh's low vaccination coverage, flawed health data, high population density and a large number of the population being still uninfected," he added.
The virologist believes if Omicron enters Bangladesh, it certainly will spread across the country like the Delta strain surge in July-August. He advocated for test, isolation and continuous genome sequencing cycle to enhance surveillance efforts that WHO recommended on Monday.
"We need to delay the entry of the variant. We must buy some time so that the health sector does not face crushing pressure as it did during the delta rampage," he noted.
Dr Arifa Akram, a member of the airport PCR monitoring committee, said Bangladesh should make the RT-PCR test mandatory for all inbound passengers at airports and a 14-day quarantine for people arriving from the African continent.
Echoing WHO's enhanced virus surveillance, Dr M Mushtuq Husain, adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), emphasised bringing the elderly and risk-group people under the mass vaccination campaign.
In the past 24 hours until Monday morning, the country reported two deaths from Covid-19 – both from the Dhaka division. Besides, 227 more people had tested positive for the virus.
The current positivity rate was reported at 1.34% after 16,891 samples were tested across the country. With the latest additions, the death toll reached 27,980 and the total caseload increased to 1,576,011 in the country.