The new coronavirus strain found in the United Kingdom (UK) has heightened worries worldwide. Scientists are yet to know details of the new strain which is more easily transmissible--up to 70 per cent--- than other known corona strains. However, the detection of the virus strain has partially overshadowed the euphoria witnessed in recent days over the administration of Covid-19 vaccines. Scientists, however, say the vaccine would be equally effective against the new Covid strain.
As the UK government reported the fast spread of Covid infection by the new strain in London and some other localities, nearly 40 countries in Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East have restricted travel to and from the UK. India too has suspended flights. The new corona variant has already travelled to some other countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.
People here also were eager to know about the government's decision on the issue since Bangladesh has been operating regular flights to and from the UK. Last Wednesday, the top men of health and civil aviation ministries disclosed that Bangladesh would not snap air connections.
The government must have done its arithmetic well and assessed the risks involved in the decision. European countries do have a higher stake in the UK. Yet many of them decided to suspend air travel.
Defending the decision to continue with the air link with the UK, the state minister in charge of civil aviation and tourism said all precautionary measures would be taken to stop the entry of Covid-infected passengers from the UK. He said the air passengers coming from the UK would have to go through a weeklong quarantine.
A top civil aviation official also said the relevant foreign airlines have been asked not to carry passengers without valid Covid test certificates.
If followed properly and faithfully, one has reasons to be satisfied with the government's precautionary measures taken at the airports. But the past track record in this connection is not highly reassuring.
It is hard to forget how in the months of late February and March Bangladeshi migrant workers entered the country through the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport almost without any sort of screening and what happened in the name of sending passengers to quarantine or isolation centres is still alive in the memory of most people. There was little or no coordination among the health and civil aviation ministries at that time.
The civil aviation ministry should not depend only on external Covid text certificates or so-called screening of all incoming passengers. It should ensure the rapid antigen tests of the passengers on arrival at the airport. If anyone is found infected, special care needs to be taken at the lab tests to see whether the virus strain is identical to the one detected lately in the UK. Besides, the government should rigorously put the passengers returning home from the UK into quarantine for at least ten days.
The new virus strain may not be more deadly. But its greater transmissibility could pose a difficult problem for a country like Bangladesh. In the event of an abrupt rise in infection rate, the dedicated hospitals might be in trouble in accommodating critical patients. So, enforcement of very stringent measures at the airport is essential to stop the entry of Covid-infected people.