It is almost precisely two years now, since Bangladesh fell in line with a number of other countries around the world to impose the first of what would turn out to be a series of 'lockdowns', in the face of the rapidly multiplying coronavirus pandemic. The longest schools closure in the entire world commenced in Bangladesh on March 18, 2020. Two years on - and those were two years too many - the picture is entirely different, and the second half of March 2022 may well go down as the period in which the country recognised it had beaten the virus.

In eleven of 16 days (Mar 16-31) during this period, the country recorded no Covid-related deaths. The infection rate as of March 31 had plunged below 1 percent, and the number of new cases was below 100. Vaccine coverage has been impressive, specially for a population of our size. According to Surokkha, the app developed for the domestic vaccination campaign here, nearly 72% of the target population has had at least one dose of the vaccine, while just under half (48%) are fully "double-vaxxed". A fairly decent number (over 8%) has even gone back to get the booster.

While that all bodes well for the endemic phase of the virus that we are now entering with regards to the novel coronavirus, an older, and some would say much more dangerous enemy has perked up around the capital - cholera. In case we've all forgotten in the midst of some Covid-driven stupor, cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It remains a global threat to public health and an indicator of inequity and lack of social development.

A cholera outbreak is never a good look, even at the best of times. Once it was so prevalent in these parts, that the erstwhile group of SEATO (the closest thing Asia has seen to a NATO, that lasted between 1955-1977) countries decided to set up their Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka, the capital of what was then East Pakistan, to be run under the US National Institutes of Health, or NIH. Once SEATO disbanded, the CRL transformed itself into the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. Today, it is simply known as ICDDR, B.

The Dhaka Hospital, setup in 1962, is part of the sprawling ICDDR, B campus in Mohakhali, and for most people, still the best place to go and get yourself treated for diarrhoea in Bangladesh. And it is from there that the disturbing news of a cholera outbreak, the worst in decades, has emerged.

Over a period of eight days till March 29, the hospital reported as many as 9,844 cases, with a staggering 1250 patients streaming into the cholera hospital every day on average. On March 29, the number of patients was a record 1334. The hospital says diarrhoea cases go up every two years, but the spike this year is 'unprecedented'. In previous outbreaks, the number of daily patients has been around 600, rising to 750. They blame people consuming unhealthy food and water outdoors without proper awareness, but as reported in some sections of the press, breaches in the water supply in some parts of town witnessing the worst outbreaks, are a real possibility. We will find out in the coming weeks. It looks like despite beating Covid-19, we may be in for a long, hard summer ahead.

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