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Bangladesh lifts virus lockdown despite grave Delta threat

Despite mounting fatalities and infections across the country, Bangladesh on Wednesday lifted its strict coronavirus curbs imposed for over a month.

The decision has divided opinion in a country struggling to contain a deadly COVID-19 surge driven by the highly infectious Delta variant, with business bodies hailing the move but citizens and medical experts largely still wary of the potential repercussions.

“Given the current coronavirus situation in the country, we really should be extending the restrictions, not ending them,” Dr. Mushtaq Hossain, a virologist and chief advisor at the government-run Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research, told Anadolu Agency.

According to official data, Bangladesh recorded 237 more virus fatalities and 10,420 infections over the past day, raising its overall count above 1.38 million and the cumulative death toll to 23,398.

The positivity and fatality rates in the country stand at 23.45% and 1.69%, respectively, well above the level deemed manageable by the World Health Organization.

However, Hossain acknowledged that the government faces a dilemma and a tough choice between people’s economic welfare and protecting them from the virus.

“Since we have failed to become a social welfare state, we cannot ensure that everyone will have food to eat and access to medical care. That leaves us with no option but to withdraw the restrictions and allow economic activities to resume,” he said.

Fears of a further spike in infections are also rampant because the country of nearly 165 million has managed to fully vaccinate just about 4.9 million people so far, while some 14.76 million people have been given a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

These considerations have been of little importance to business owners and trade bodies, who were pressuring the government to lift the lockdown, despite warnings by experts that any such move will further fan the spread of the highly transmissible Delta strain.

Atique Mustahid, a 34-year-old private sector worker living in Dhaka, said people are aware that “the end of the lockdown could further worsen the country’s virus situation.”

“But we have to survive. We have to get back to work and help bring the economy back to life,” he said.

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