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Bangladeshis shun virus testing after fake screening scandal

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A vendor sells face masks at a roadside stall amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on June 25, 2020. (Str/Xinhua)

DHAKA (AFP) – The number of people being tested for coronavirus in Bangladesh has fallen by almost half, officials said Sunday, in the wake of a huge screening scandal.

The number of tests carried out daily has fallen from about 18,000 in late June to just over 10,000 in the past two weeks, the health department said.

The huge drop followed the arrest of more than a dozen people, including a Dhaka hospital owner, on charges they issued fake certificates to thousands of patients saying they were virus-free without testing them.

“The panic among the people (over the virus) has gone,” health department spokeswoman Nasima Sultana told AFP about the lower testing figures.

She added that monsoon floods, the cost of tests at 200 Taka ($2.40) and fears of being quarantined were making people reluctant to get properly diagnosed.

The low death rate – officially at 1.28 percent – rather than concerns over the veracity of test results also meant people with virus-symptoms preferred to stay at home, she added.

But leading public health expert Muzaherul Huq said there was increasing public distrust of testing following the alleged fake screenings.

Two hospitals and a testing centre in Dhaka were also shut by authorities over the scandal.

“It naturally raises questions about the credibility of the (test) centres. It has strongly discouraged them to go for a check,” Huq, the former head of the state-run Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said.

Dhaka banker Muminur Rahman told AFP he did not trust the testing regime as his 42-year-old brother received a negative result in mid-June even though he was suffering from virus symptoms.

His brother died a week later, and his sister-in-law, aged 34, followed him in early July. Neither was formally diagnosed as having the virus.

The country of 168 million people has recorded more than 200,000 infections, but experts say the real figures are likely to be much higher.

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