Dhaka, Bangladesh Bangladesh has enforced a new set of rules and guidelines to control a sharp increase in COVID-19 infections over the past week.
The South Asian country on Thursday reported 3,359 new cases and 12 COVID-related deaths, with a positivity rate of 12 percent, according to a daily bulletin issued by the Directorate-General of Health Services (DGHS).
The DGHS declared the capital, Dhaka, and the southeastern district of Rangamati to be “red zones”, as the infection rate in these districts was between 10 percent and 19 percent.
‘We have seen a fairly sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. The daily positivity figures have now exceeded 10 percent over the past three days, “DGHS spokesperson Dr Robed Amin told Al Jazeera.
Amin said more than 80 percent of the COVID-19 cases detected in Bangladesh are still from the Delta variant. “The cases of Omicron variant however, is increasing, ”he said.
Bangladesh, home to 180 million people, confirmed its first Omicron cases in the second week of December when two women cricketers from a series returned to Zimbabwe.
The latest figures put the country’s total deaths at 28,123, while the total case load rose to 1,604,644. On January 1, Bangladesh detected only 370 cases with a daily positivity rate of 2.43 percent.
“The steady increase in infections indicates that Omicron’s community transmission has already begun to some extent,” Health Minister Zahid Maleque told a news conference on Wednesday.
The minister warned that the situation could worsen in the coming days and put serious pressure on the country’s healthcare system. He urged people to wear masks outside, maintain physical distance and be vaccinated as soon as possible.
A day after its warning, the government issued an 11-point directive, including mandatory COVID-19 passes and restrictions on opportunities and transportation facilities.
The restrictions oblige people to wear protective face masks at shops, malls, markets, hotels, restaurants and other public places. All social, political and religious public gatherings in open spaces are prohibited until further notice.
Trains, buses and launches were instructed to transport passengers at half capacity. The rules also state that students over the age of 12 will not be allowed to attend personal classes without showing a vaccine certificate.
To enforce the rules, the government has set up mobile courts across Dhaka, although local media reports have said the rules are not strictly followed in the city.
“We are possibly entering the third wave of coronavirus due to Omicron variant,” Dr Tahmina Shirin, director of the Dhaka-based Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Al Jazeera.
“This is a global trend. The whole world has seen a rapid increase in business. The Omicron variant is very contagious, ”she said.
During the second wave of the pandemic in July and August last year, Bangladesh saw more than 200 deaths a day for about a month. Many died due to a lack of medical oxygen.
“This time the case loads will probably be higher than the second wave as Omicron spreads faster. “At this stage we can not be sure about the death rate, as world trends indicate that Omicron is not as deadly as Delta,” Shirin told Al Jazeera.
However, she said people should maintain hygiene and follow the COVID-19 guidelines.
“Wearing masks and maintaining social distance is still the best possible way to combat the spread of infections.”