Dhaka, Bangladesh – Bangladesh imposed a new set of rules and guidelines to curb the sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in the past week.
The South Asian country reported 3,359 new cases and 12 deaths linked to COVID on Thursday, with a positive rate of 12 percent, according to a daily bulletin issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
The General Directorate of Health Services declared the capital Dhaka and the southeastern Rangamati district “red zones” as the infection rate in these areas was reported to be between 10 per cent and 19 per cent.
“We have seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. DGHS spokesperson Dr. Rubid Amin told Al Jazeera that daily positivity rates have now exceeded 10 per cent for the past three days.
Amin said that more than 80 percent of the COVID-19 cases detected in Bangladesh are still delta type. “However, the cases of the Omicron variant are increasing,” he said.
Bangladesh, which has a population of 180 million, confirmed the first cases of Omicron in the second week of December when two female cricketers returned from a series in Zimbabwe.
The latest figures brought the total number of deaths in the country to 28,123 while the total number of cases rose to 1,604,644. On January 1, Bangladesh detected only 370 cases, with a daily positive rate of 2.43 percent.
“The continuous increase in infections indicates that transmission of Omicron has already begun to some extent,” Health Minister Zahid Malik said in a media briefing on Wednesday.
The minister warned that the situation could worsen and put serious pressure on the country’s healthcare system in the coming days. He urged people to wear masks outdoors, keep a distance, and get vaccinated as soon as possible.
A day after his warning, the government issued an 11-point guidance, including mandatory COVID-19 permits and restrictions on events and transportation facilities.
The restrictions require people to wear protective face masks in stores, malls, markets, hotels, restaurants and other public places. All public social, political and religious gatherings in open spaces are banned until further notice.
Trains, buses and launches were instructed to carry passengers at half capacity. The rules also state that students over the age of 12 will not be allowed to attend classes in person without showing a vaccination certificate.
To enforce the rules, the government has set up mobile courts throughout Dhaka, although local media reports have said the rules are not being strictly followed in the city.
“It is possible that we are entering the third wave of the Corona virus because of the Omicron variant,” Dr. Tahmina Sherine, director of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) in Dhaka, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s a global trend. The whole world has seen a rapid surge in the number of cases. The Omicron variant is very contagious,” she said.
During the second wave of the epidemic in July and August last year, Bangladesh saw more than 200 deaths per day for about a month. Many died due to lack of medical oxygen.
“This time around, the caseload will likely be higher than in the second wave because Omicron is spreading faster. At this point, we cannot be sure of the death rate as global trends indicate that Omicron is not as deadly as Delta,” Sherine told Al Jazeera.
However, she said people should maintain hygiene and follow COVID-19 guidelines.
“Wearing masks and maintaining social distance remains the best possible way to limit the spread of infection.”