In a state-run hospital near Bangladesh’s border with India, Shahinul Islam prays his father does not become one of the facility’s more than 300 patients who have died this month from COVID-19.
Hundreds like his father are struggling to breathe in the COVID-19 treatment unit, while Islam waits in an emergency room packed with people. Relatives rush in and out, desperately trying to find oxygen cylinders for their loved ones.
The crowds of COVID-19 patients and worried kin are new scenes for the 1,200-bed Rajshahi Medical College Hospital, which serves border communities being overrun by the more infectious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 first detected in neighboring India.
More than 450 people with COVID-19 were admitted on Tuesday to the state-run hospital in Rajshahi District’s main city.
Islam said his entire family has been shunned by people in his home village closer to the border.
Rising infections and crowded hospitals are being seen across Bangladesh, where a stringent lockdown starts today.
The government is to deploy soldiers, paramilitary border officers and riot police to enforce the lockdown, set initially for one week.
“If people do not maintain health safety rules and if they do not stay at home, this wave of the pandemic in Bangladesh could be catastrophic. It spreads fast and it kills more people,” said S.M. Alamgir, a chief scientific officer of the Bangladeshi government’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, in the capital, Dhaka.
The Rajshahi hospital is short of the type of oxygen supply system necessary for critical patients at a time when it is seeing more and more patients with worryingly low oxygen levels. Government hospitals in border districts have been forced to rely on portable oxygen cylinders.
“They can’t be managed properly with just oxygen cylinders. If we can’t provide them with central oxygen line, God forbid, the casualties may increase,” said Brigadier General Shamim Yazdani, director of the hospital.
After the pandemic hit a devastating peak in April in India, Bangladesh shut the border. Still, many traveled to and from India illegally, bringing with them new infections. The situation in India has now eased, but in Bangladesh, it has only escalated.
The surging cases and vaccine uncertainties pushed Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to double down. Restrictions began in phases on Monday before all economic activity is halted in a stringent nationwide lockdown starting today.
A complete lockdown might be the only answer to slow the variant, which poses the biggest risk yet.
The government is also trying to procure more vaccines, Alamgir said.
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