The government appears to have scaled up screening at the capital’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport amid fears of a possible spike in Covid-19 cases in the coming winter.
The airport authorities have already increased the number of health screening booths at arrival and departure points to nine and 12 respectively. There were only two screening desks at the arrival during the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak.
Inbound passengers are required to present Covid-19 negative medical certificates at the screening desks, which are operating on a 24/7 basis. The desk provides information on symptoms, quarantine and when and how to seek treatment, said airport officials.
Similarly, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has increased its manpower at the Dhaka airport. Now, 40 doctors, 40 nurses and 33 sanitary inspectors are working at the airport. There used to be four doctors, 14 nurses and 17 sanitary inspectors earlier.
The move came after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently instructed the authorities concerned to ramp up screening at the country’s ports and quarantine facilities as part of preparedness in case a second Covid-19 wave hits the country.
At present, on an average 4,000 passengers land at the airport daily. After going through four infrared thermal scanners, all the inbound passengers are required to produce a Covid-19 negative medical certificate at the entry point.
The passengers having the certificates are then directed to undergo home quarantine for two weeks. Those who fail to provide the certificates are sent to the institutional quarantine in Dhaka.
According to DGHS officials, the government arranged institutional quarantines in the capital’s Ashkona Hajj Camp with around 400 accommodations and in Diabari where around 2,000 people can be accommodated.
Experts appreciate the government for ramping up the screening, but said there are a lot more to do. As Covid-19 will remain as a threat until a safe and effective vaccine is available, the government must take steps in accordance with the experience gathered, they said.
On January 21, the DGHS started screening activities by setting up a health desk for the passengers coming from China — where the novel coronavirus is thought to have emerged in December last year.
“Even if the country fully prevents the spread of the deadly virus, screening at the entry points should remain in place to sort out any incoming case,” Dr Mushtaq Hussain, consultant of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told The Daily Star.
Recently, China has suspended visas from France, Italy, India, Bangladesh, Russia, Ukraine, Belgium and a numbers of other countries temporarily to prevent incoming cases of Covid-19.
According to the DGHS, nearly 1,000 people are entering the country via 25 land ports and two sea ports in the country. On an average, nearly 800 people are being screened at these entry points.
Health staffers at the country’s three international airports said they find it hard to tackle when all or many of the passengers of a flight arrive with no Covid-19 certificate.
“We often find passengers of a flight — especially from the Middle East — arrive without any health clearance. Many of them create ruckus when they somehow realise that we would send them to institutional quarantine,” Dr Shahriar Sajjat, a health official at the HSIA, told The Daily Star.
On November 3, the DGHS has placed a proposal to the health ministry on deploying members of law enforcement agencies to help the health staffers at the airport. Besides, it plans to setting up Covid-19 sample collection booths at three quarantine centres in Dhaka, according to a health ministry source.
AHM Touhidul Ahsan, director of HSIA, told this paper, “Passengers, mainly from the United Kingdom and the Middle Eastern countries, come without Covid-19 certificates. We send them to the institutional quarantine camps directly.”
Top officials of DGHS and officials of International Organisation for Migrantion (IOM) are likely to hold a meeting in this regard today with the airport officials following a visit to the HSIA, sources said.
SITUATION IN OTHER AIRPORTS
There are two infrared thermal scanners and a few health screening desks at the country’s two other international airports — Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram and Osmani International Airport in Sylhet.
Civil Surgeon Dr Fazle Rabby of Chattogram said a Covid-19 health certificate is mandatory for all international incoming and outgoing passengers using air and sea ports in the district.
Passengers without the certificates are sent to a government-arranged quarantine centre. As of yesterday, there were 51 such passengers in quarantine there, he told our correspondent in Chattogram.
On the other hand, incoming passengers coming through the Sylhet airport do not require any health certificate to produce. All the passengers are asked to quarantine themselves at home, according to airport officials.
In Benapole land port, incoming passengers are not asked to show any health certificates. They only go through the thermal scanner for temperature check, reports our correspondent there.