In view of the rising Covid-19 cases in Bangladesh, authorities have cancelled the traditional Rash Mela. The crowd-pulling festival was scheduled to begin on Sunday on Dublar Char Island near the Sundarbans.
Hundreds of Hindu devotees have already entered the area for the three-day festival through five selected routes, officials said on Saturday, adding that they would, however, be allowed to take the holy dip.
Mohammad Belayet Hossain, Divisional Forest Officer of Sundarbans (east zone), said, “In the wake of the worsening Covid-19 situation, the authorities concerned have decided to refrain from holding the traditional Rash Mela at Alorkol."
"Only Hindu devotees will be allowed to take the holy dip and conduct the warship programme during the three days. However, no people from other religions will be allowed to enter the area," he said.
The authorities had earlier issued directives, asking devotees to get their pass from forest stations and carry their national identity cards as well. "All the devotees will have to maintain social distancing and other Covid protocols like wearing masks and sanitising their hands at frequent intervals," the DFO said.
Local fishermen were also asked to complete their fishing activities by November 25, he added.
Joint general secretary of Rash Utshab Udjapon Committee, Pradeep Basu Santu, said, “The Rash festival has been taking place in Dublar Char for the past 200 years and this year, the authorities have taken preparations to hold a low-key event due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Though generally some 50-60 thousand devotees and visitors throng the island for the festival every year, this year only 10-15 thousand people will come to perform their rituals there, he added.
Every year, not only Hindus, people from other religions also come to the island to enjoy the mela. Cultural programmes are also arranged on the occasion.
Rash Purnima, the day of full moon in the Bangla month of Kartik (late autumn), is celebrated as the moment of union of Hindu god Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha.
Last year, the traditional Rush Mela was suspended due to Cyclone Bulbul.
Switzerland’s Ambassador to Bangladesh Nathalie Chuard has said there is a growing global expectation to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis and prepare the ground for a sustainable return of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Myanmar.
Ambassador Chuard, however, said the conditions required for a sustainable, voluntary, safe and dignified return are not there yet.
"It's important that the international community continues supporting Bangladesh in its humanitarian efforts, and that this support includes key elements facilitating refugees’ return, such as documentation, education and skills," she told UNB in an interview at her residence.
For Switzerland, the Ambassador said, this is very important to foster the dialogue with all actors around this crisis.
"I can say that the international community continues to work closely and jointly with all the countries and stakeholders in the region to find a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis," said Ambassador Chuard.
She, however, said they are also looking for a solution within the framework of international humanitarian and human rights laws, and want to ensure that humanitarian access is given to all refugees.
Ambassador Chuard highly appreciates Bangladesh for hosting Rohingyas. "I very much commend the generosity and hospitality of the government and the people of Bangladesh."
"When it comes to the planned relocation of Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, I’ve to echo what many members of the international community have already said. We need to have the critical protection, basic rights, services and operational issues assessed and addressed effectively," she said.
Ambassador Chuard said that an independent and comprehensive technical and protection assessment should be done regarding the feasibility and safety of such relocation.
The government of Bangladesh says it will relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char and there is an indication that the relocation will begin from the first week of December in small groups without giving any big announcement.
Ambassador Chuard, who recently visited the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, said she is really amazed with the comprehensive response from all actors.
"There's a very strong and very important collaboration among all actors," said the Ambassador, who met partners, government and UN officials on the ground.
The Swiss Ambassador is also pleased to see that deforestation has now been somehow turned into reforestation. "That's a very positive signal."
The envoy said she was in a position to see with her own eyes how the partners are adjusting their activities with the Covid-19 situation.
"I was impressed by how humanitarian actors adapted their operations to the new set of challenges while still being focused on responding to the needs," she said.
Mentioning that the Rohingya crisis entered the fourth year, she said people want to go home in Myanmar.
"It’s crucial to give them the hope and perspectives. Living conditions remain dire, with enduring protection concerns related to safety and security, especially for the most vulnerable groups, such as women and girls," said the Ambassador.
Since the beginning of Covid, increased gender-based violence has been reported in the camps.
Switzerland highlights these critical concerns and the importance of addressing protection issues, as well as livelihood and education opportunities for the Rohingyas.
Responding to a question on the host community, the Ambassador said Switzerland’s support is not only going to the camps but also to the host communities.
Switzerland has an active presence in Cox’s Bazar with direct actions addressing challenges such as sanitation and waste management at district level.
“It’s a crucial upgrade for the district, and I’m proud that Switzerland has the expertise and technology that can improve the current infrastructure,” said Ambassador Chuard.
Repatriation attempts failed twice in November 2018 and August 2019 amid Rohingyas' lack of trust in the Myanmar government.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017.
On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on “Physical Arrangement”, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.
In fact, for the past three years, she has been playing a key role in providing education to women and children at Rohingya camps, who are deprived of formal studies. Rimu has also been raising awareness among the Rohingyas on various issues, including child marriage, dowry and domestic violence.
She also uses mass media like radio broadcasts and road plays to create awareness among the Rohingyas about the UN Security Council's recommendations on women, peace and security. "Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is my inspiration and the Jago Nari Foundation acted as a bridge for moving ahead," Rimu told UNB.
For its list of 100 inspiring and influential women, BBC was looking for candidates who had made headlines or influenced important stories over the past 12 months, as well as those who have inspiring stories to tell, achieved something significant or influenced their societies in ways that wouldn't necessarily hog media limelight.
The pool of names was then assessed against this year's theme -- Women who led change -- and measured for regional representation, before the final list was released. The broadcaster releases the list every year.
"I do believe in women's power for realising rights. I did not do anything to get recognition from BBC. I got involved in social service and never thought I would get such a big honour in recognition of my work. I feel proud and lucky to have received this honour," Rimu said.
Asking about her future plans, she said, “I would like to work for the upliftment of women and children, who always remain deprived due to lack of opportunities despite having potential.”
Rimu’s father Abdur Rahim, said “We are happy and we’ll support her for the continuation of her success.”
Sheuli Sharma, Executive Director of Jago Nari Foundation, said, "Remu’s achievement is not only for Jago Nari or Cox’s Bazar but also a huge achievement for Bangladesh. I think her outstanding achievement is a reflection of the Prime Minister's efforts to empower women, and it will be a milestone in removing barriers for women across the country."
Benapole port, the largest land port in the country, has become a safe haven for smugglers.
UNB has learnt that the smugglers who operate under the aegis of a syndicate use Indian trucks for bringing in the smuggled goods, including medicines, cosmetics and clothes, and sometimes contraband items, dodging the Customs.
As the smuggling is taking place in broad daylight, and that too under the nose of law enforcement agencies, it's obvious that the illegal business is flourishing with active support from some corrupt port officials.
Not only is the smuggling syndicate causing huge losses to the state exchequer, but also bringing disrepute to many well-known importers by using their names in their nefarious activities.
Every year, Bangladeshi importers pay Tk 300 crore as tax to the government. They now accuse the authorities of turning a blind eye to the smuggling activities at the port.
On November 9, Altech Aluminium Limited imported over 12 tonnes of aluminium on 14 trucks after paying Tk 48 lakh as revenue. But a smuggling syndicate member managed to load 14 bales of cloth on the same trucks in connivance with one of the drivers.
When the customs authorities asked for papers, the accused driver said he needed 30 minutes to produce the documents. Both he and the smuggler concerned then escaped, forcing the Customs Intelligence to seize all the items.
Similarly, on November 18, a team of Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) seized cosmetics, chocolates, liquor, cumin seeds and raisins after searching a truck but failed to arrest anyone as the driver managed to flee.
Motiur Rahman, director of Indo-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industries (IBCCI), said, “Businessman are counting losses due to the smuggling syndicate that operate in connivance with some corrupt port officials."
"Immediate steps should be taken to put an end to smuggling of goods through the port," he added.
Zia Uddin, owner of Altech Aluminium Limited, said, “The port area is a secured area. How can a syndicate become active in it? Also why are importers becoming the victims of the syndicate despite paying Tk 48 crore to the government as revenue every year?"
He demanded immediate measures to detect the movement of unauthorised people in the port area.
When contacted, Mohammad Azizur Rahman, Commissioner of Benapole Customs, said, “Due to the smuggling syndicate, legitimate importers are constantly being harassed at the port. An urgent probe committee will be formed to look into the matter. Customs will take legal action against smugglers."
In a major breakthrough, researchers in Bangladesh have found that an existing medicine called eltrombopag -- used to treat chronic immune thrombocytopenia or chronic hepatitis C infection -- could be repurposed to create the first drug treatment for the deadly dengue fever.
Some 390 million people contract dengue virus globally each year. While most patients experience fever or a mild form of the disease, a small percentage goes on to develop the potentially fatal dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), wherein blood leaks from ruptured blood vessels leading to dengue shock syndrome (DSS).
In its experiment, a team of 12 from Dhaka University and Dhaka Medical college administered a small dose (25 mg) of eltrombopag in 101 dengue patients and saw the success of the drug, a release by Dhaka University's biochemistry and molecular biology department said.
Dr. Sajib Chakraborty, Associate Professor of the department, who is also one of the researchers, said, “One of the symptoms of dengue is low blood platelets. But there is a medicine called eltrombopag that increases blood platelets. But it has never been used in dengue. We started research on how it can work in the dengue treatment,”
Novartis, an international pharmaceutical giant, developed the drug in 2008, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014. Eltrombopag is mainly used when the platelets are low in liver disease, apart from other ailments.
Dr Chakraborty said, “Since the number of platelets in dengue patients decreases, we have speculated that this medicine may work to increase the platelet count in patients. However, we were not 100% sure. Then we started experimenting with this.”
“We have seen good results in our research,” he said, adding, “About 92% of the dengue patients -- who took eltrombopag -- had their platelet counts returned to normal in eight days. Of those who did not take this medicine, only 55% recovered. As a result, most of the patients are recovering after taking this medication.”
Also read: Dengue cases spike in Bangladesh
About the side effects of the medicine, Dr. Chakraborty said, “We have also seen whether there is any side effect of the eltrombopag as many platelets can cause damage if they increase. Many times blood can clot. But in the case of patients, (this medicine) did not get anything like that. Only 3% of patients had reported some side effects, such as diarrhea.”
The researchers said it was a second-phase test. However, in order to fully confirm the success of this medicine on dengue, it is necessary to conduct human testing on thousands of people in multiple countries in the third phase.
“The drug has not yet been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). But if it succeeds in testing on a larger scale like ours, then surely it will be included in the guidelines for the treatment of dengue,” he said.
The study, conducted from October 2019 to February 2020, has been published in ‘The Lancet Journal of Clinical Medicine’. The study was funded by a pharmaceutical company called Incepta Pharmaceuticals of Bangladesh.
Also read: Risk of dengue outbreak rises amid lockdown