Cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh reached 1 million last night, as the presence of new variants of the virus accelerated its spread in recent days. Bangladesh’s vaccine rollout has restarted in the last 24 hours but Rohingya refugees have not yet been reached, sparking concern among NGOs supporting those who live in the most densely populated refugee camp in the world. 

Case numbers in the last 24 hours have broken records with 13,768 cases confirmed in a single day, bringing the total number of cases to 1,034,957. Despite the dramatic rise in case numbers, Bangladesh has only administered enough vaccines to protect around 3% of the population, but to date no Rohingya have received a vaccination. 

Around 900,000 Rohingya refugees continue to live within the overcrowded confines of Cox’s Bazar with little access to healthcare, and due to the density of camp populations, unable to maintain COVID-19 prevention methods such as social distancing, regular handwashing and isolation. The IRC has set up a 60-bed isolation and treatment centre, the largest of its kind in Cox’s Bazar, where COVID-19 patients with severe acute respiratory needs can be treated. Teams are also helping to address misinformation about the virus, travelling door-to-door to teach families about COVID-19 prevention methods. However, the needs remain enormous and the risks to refugees high if they are not vaccinated. 

Speaking from Cox’s Bazar, Dr Abu Syem Md Shahin, IRC Senior Health Coordinator, said, 

“We are immensely worried by the uptick in COVID-19 cases. The virus does not discriminate - a rise in infections in Cox’s Bazar will likely result in an outbreak amongst the Rohingya population, who remain in cramped living conditions and are at serious risk of infection. Bangladesh will only be protected when all those at risk are vaccinated. 

“Years of underfunding of the humanitarian response, combined with refugee confinement to the camps, means Rohingya refugees are reliant on health services provided by national and international actors in the camps. Even before the pandemic these services struggled to meet all refugee needs, but now they need additional support to accelerate the rollout of COVID treatment and vaccination.

“The IRC is particularly concerned that the number of vaccines available in Bangladesh will mean many, including highly vulnerable Rohingya refugees, will remain unprotected, risking a serious spike in infections, hospitalisation and deaths. Our teams are prepared to begin administering vaccines to people living in the Cox’s Bazar camps, with two IRC health centers designated as official vaccine sites and staff members fully trained as vaccinators to lead distribution efforts. Access to vaccines will prove pivotal to halting the spread of the virus in Cox’s Bazar and it is critical that the international community support the Government of Bangladesh to access and distribute vaccines to Bangladeshis and the Rohingya.”