China-returnees facing ordeals

Police escort 2 students to hospital in Barguna, Habiganj

Escorted by police, two students in Habiganj and Barguna, who have recently returned from China, were taken to hospitals and isolated Sunday evening as panic gripped the local people that the students might have contracted coronavirus. A coronavirus rumour mill went into frenzy in the two districts and the relevant union council chairman in Barguna even wrote to the upazila nirbahi officer that the student was ‘coronavirus-infected’.

On the other hand, in Habiganj, the admitted patients fled the hospital after the student was isolated there. After police led the students to the hospitals, the government’s disease monitoring arm, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, asked the administration to quell the rumours and consult the Health Services or the IEDCR before taking any China or Singapore returnee to hospital.

“You [local administration] should not take anyone coming from China to hospital without consulting the Health Services or the IEDCR,” said IEDCR director Meerjady Sabrina Flora. “You have to understand that everyone coming from China or Singapore is not a coronavirus patient,’ she told a press conference at her office on Monday.

Coronavirus, which is suspected to have spread in late December from a market in Wuhan of China that sells wild animal, have killed at least 1,770 in China and infected over 70,500 other people. The virus, dubbed as Covid-19, has already spread to over two dozen countries, including Singapore where 77 people were infected with the virus, among whom were five Bangladeshis.

One of the five affected Bangladeshis, remaining in hospital, was still in a critical condition and kept in an intensive care unit, said Bangladesh high commissioner to Singapore M Mustafizur Rahman. The rest four’s condition is stable, he said over phone.

Bangladesh on February 1 brought back 312 citizens from Wuhan, the epicentre of the disease, and had put them all in quarantine for two weeks before releasing them in good health on Saturday. Though Bangladesh said that no coronavirus-infected people were found so far in the country and the screening of all incoming travellers were going on at the ports of entry people still doubt the government’s preparedness against the virus.

‘Local people don’t have the confidence that the China returnees are being properly screened,’ said Barguna civil surgeon Humayun Shahin Khan. ‘There has been a lot of panic in the locality after the student returned,’ he said. Humayun said that the student was taken to the hospital with a bit high temperature.

‘He has endured a long journey that might cause a weakness in him, but he has no symptoms of coronavirus,’ the civil surgeon added. But for confirmation, he further said, his samples were sent to the IEDCR for tests. Barguna upazila nirbahi officer Masuma Akhter said that she was compelled to send police to the student’s home as the local union council chairman wrote to her office that the student was ‘coronavirus-affected’.

‘He [chairman] is a politician and I could not think otherwise but to send police for his hospitalisation,’ she said. Barguna police station officer-in-charge Abir Hossain said that the student’s hospitalisation helped restrain the panic among the locals.

In Habiganj, rumours spread that the suspected student there was among the Wuhan returnees, who were brought back to Dhaka from Wuhan on February 1 and were released in good health on Saturday after 14 days of quarantine. The student actually came back to Bangladesh from Guangzhou of China on February 8, said Habiganj civil surgeon Mostafizur Rahman, but a rumor spread that the student was among the Wuhan returnee and that he contracted coronavirus.

He said that the student had cold and shoulder pain but was put in isolation as a precaution. ‘We’ve collected his samples and sent those to the IEDCR for tests,’ Mostafizur said. IEDCR director Meerjady said that anyone entering the country through a port of entry was being screened and suspected travellers were being quarantined and tested.

Those who carry no symptoms and return to their homes are requested to stay in home quarantine for 24 days. If anyone has symptoms of coronavirus like fever, coughing or breathing difficulty after returning home should go to hospital, but stigmatising the China or Singapore returnees would bring about harmful consequences, she added.

‘But unfortunately, they are facing a weird situation,’ Meerjady said. ‘We are requesting all relevant government authorities to coordinate with the Health Services [in this regard],’ she said. ‘It’s not acceptable that the administration or the police will go to the home of China and Singapore returnees and take whimsical decision without consulting the office of the Civil Surgeon,’ Meerjady commented.