The death of two people on Friday since the latest death from Covid-19 on March 28 last---exactly 66 days ago---is indeed a cause for concern. It is not only because of the two deaths from the disease from which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently withdrawn the worldwide health emergency, but also because of its fresh surge in the country. In the 24 hours up to 8:am on Friday last, 89 people were detected positive with the Covid virus. The rate of positivity is quite high at 5.87 among the 1,515 who were tested with corona symptoms.
Understandably, people cannot be blamed for not taking the disease very seriously and putting themselves to corona test after negligible numbers reporting they had caught the disease no longer proving deadly. But the past week's, from May 22-28 to be precise, the rate of Covid-19 positivity has increased as high as 133 per cent compared to its previous week. The sign is not good, if not ominous yet.
What is particularly important here is to know which variant is infecting people now and has claimed the two lives after more than two months. China, where from Covid-19 spread, has lately reported spread of newly evolved XBB variants. The sub-variants have, according to health experts and epidemiologists, evolved from omicron and although milder, they are feared to cause the greatest wave of illness ever recorded since China's strict zero-Covid programme was suddenly abandoned last December. Health emergency and hospital accommodation may not be overwhelming similar to those in 2022 but still the elderly and immunocompromised may discover themselves at a grave risk.
The impression is that the XBB sub-variants such as XBB.1.9.1, XBB.1.5, XBB.1.16 are highly infectious although they may not be as deadly as the predecessors of omicron such as delta and alpha. Bangladesh should, without any delay, find out if the fresh surge of corona cases is due to XBB or any other variant. The knowledge is important to arrest the spread of infection and avoid economic losses and social costs.
Local public health experts are of the opinion that June and July may witness a peak infection on the basis of similar developments they recorded in the past three years. One thing is clear: these milder variants are not powerful enough to cause another epidemic but a public health emergency in a country like Bangladesh now reeling from an economic shock cannot be ruled out. Hospitals here are least prepared for such an emergency. If the peak outbreak of the disease becomes several times higher than what was in the past week, that points to an ominous prospect for many in the middle and lower middle classes, particularly at a time when they are struggling to make both ends meet on account of economic hardship.
Then the families with elderly people and those among them with other health complications are always at the mercy of the virus. They must be administered the fourth booster dose before the country witnesses a high incidence of the disease. There is a lack of information of how the elderly can avail of the booster dose of vaccine. In China, the authorities have approved two newly developed vaccines for the XBB variants and three to four are waiting to be approved soon. Specific vaccines for specific variants are a different proposition altogether. Does it mean, the earlier vaccines are ineffective to provide immunity against the newer variants?
This point should be made clear to the public. Understandably, Chinese vaccines were less effective than the US and British counterparts against the earlier variants of Covid. Does this prompt China to develop new vaccines or are those absolutely necessary to deal with the latest variants? Whatever it is, the elderly and immunocompromised people must be given the shot of 4th booster dose on a priority basis.