Following nations that reacted with alarm to the highly mutated new coronavirus variant, Bangladesh has moved to suspend air travel with South Africa, said Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Saturday.
Besides, the minister said all the inbound passengers will have to go through health screening at all land and air ports in Bangladesh.
Zahid Maleque said the district level authorities have been instructed to strictly enforce virus safety guidelines, and to be cautious about people who came to Bangladesh from foreign countries recently.
"They will be verified whether they have received two doses of vaccines and tested for the virus," he added.
Dr Shahriar Sajjad, chief health officer at Dhaka airport, told The Business Standard that the minister alerted them while leaving Dhaka for Switzerland on an official programme Saturday. Besides, the national technical advisory committee on Covid-19 management will provide them with some more directives after a meeting on Sunday.
Bangladesh in the July-August period witnessed a brutal surge in infections and deaths as the Delta variant started the roundup. Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially labelled Omicron "more virulent than Delta" and "variant of concern", local public health experts expressed their concern.
"This time, we will have to be really serious. Otherwise, the situation might get worse than Delta," Dr Abu Jamil Faisal, a public health expert and a member of the Public Health Advisory Committee of Covid-19, told TBS.
Reminding Delta sneaked into Bangladesh from India through the north-western border, he advocated for proper screening at all the ports of entrance alongside travel ban with South Africa.
In the past 24 hours, two people, both from the Dhaka division, died of Covid-19 in Bangladesh.
Some 155 people tested positive for the virus during the same period.
The current positivity rate has been reported at 1.15% after 13,462 samples were tested across the country.
Earlier on Friday, Bangladesh reported three deaths and 239 cases.
The new Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization from South Africa on 24 November and has since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong. The WHO said Omicron may spread more quickly than other forms, and preliminary evidence suggested there is an increased risk of reinfection.
In the meantime, a top UK health official warned that vaccines would "almost certainly" be less effective against the new variant, reports BBC.
On Saturday, Australia, Japan, India, Iran, Brazil, Canada, Thailand announced travel bans from different southern African countries and ordered more rigorous screening and testing for travellers in other countries.
Dr Ashraful Hoque, an assistant professor at Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute, said some countries such as Singapore and Qatar do not allow inbound people just with vaccine certificates. Rather the nations measure the level of antibodies of the passengers to decide further doses of vaccines or quarantine period upon the arrival.
"We should think about it now," he suggested.
Omicron fears renew booster shot call
Dr Ashraful Hoque said people who got jabbed in February this year might have reached "antibody baseline" by now as the antibodies against the virus wear out gradually.
"If Omicron hits us, the death curve will jump. So, we must decide about the third dose, or the booster shot now," he noted.
So far, around 35% of Bangladeshi adults have received at least one dose while 22% have had two doses. The nationwide vaccination was rolled out on 7 February with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
"At least 10% of the completely immunised 22% got jabbed before July. I think risk-group people and frontliners should be offered the third dose. That could be with public or private arrangements," said the public health expert.
He said as the government is yet to come up with the third dose decision, the private sector should be allowed to administer the booster shot to people who are willing to take it and can afford the costs.