Bangladesh shuts schools as coronavirus cases surge

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Students apply hand sanitiser while attending a class at the Viqarunnisa Noon School & College after the government has withdrawn restrictions on educational institutions following a decrease in the number of cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, September 12, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

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DHAKA, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Bangladesh on Friday closed all schools and colleges for two weeks to counter an "alarming" rise in COVID-19 infections, just four months after ending a 1-1/2 year school closure imposed due to coronavirus.

The south Asian country reported 11,434 new cases on Friday, the biggest single-day jump since Aug. 9, pushing the positivity rate to 28.5%.

"We are seeing an uptick in infections in schools and colleges. This is really alarming," Health Minister Zahid Maleque told reporters.

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He added that public gatherings like political rallies and religious functions involving more than 100 people had been prohibited, although the duration of the ban was not immediately clear.

The healthcare system would be overwhelmed if the situation deteriorates further, Maleque said, adding more than a third of the hospital beds in the capital, Dhaka, have already been occupied by coronavirus patients.

Bangladesh has so far administered at least 151 million doses of vaccine since an inoculation drive began a year ago, with 47% of the population having had two shots.

Booster shots are administered to people over the age of 60 and healthcare and frontline workers.

The authorities have so far inoculated 2.89 million children aged 12-17 years.

Schools in Bangladesh reopened in September after one and half years, one of the world's longest coronavirus shutdowns.

Authorities hope the closure of schools will help break chains of infection amid fears about the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the virus.

It can take days to confirm the strain of a virus through genomic sequencing, and Bangladesh has so far confirmed 62 Omicron cases. Since the pandemic first swept into Bangladesh in March 2020, the country has recorded 1,664,616 cases, including 28,192 deaths.

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Reporting by Ruma Paul, Editing by William Maclean

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