With the opening of RMG factories, shops and eateries despite no observable downward trend in COVID-19 cases in the country, increasingly large numbers of people have been seen emerging from the lockdown situation this week, casually flouting social distancing guidelines and posing serious risk of a rapid spike in the number of infections.
Visiting different areas of the capital, UNB found the number of people and vehicles moving on the city streets increased significantly in the last one week. Even traffic jams were back in some areas, including Motijheel.
Visiting a number of kitchen markets in the city, UNB correspondents found huge crowds flouting the guidelines on social distancing there.
People were also seen gathering in front of the shops without maintaining the required distance of 1 metre or so thought to be safe for preventing transmission of COVID-19.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in Bangladesh exceeded 11,000 after the health authorities announced the highest detection of new cases with increased testing on three consecutive days this week till Wednesday. The death toll has risen to 186.
Although there is no sign that the virus is slowing down, several hundred garment factories in Dhaka resumed production on April 26, triggering criticism from different corners. Newly confirmed cases also include a large number of RMG workers.
After attending an inter-ministerial meeting on Sunday at the Secretariat on opening industries and factories on limited scale, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said that the garments owners have been asked to follow health guidelines strictly. He also said if many workers of a factory are diagnosed with coronavirus, then it will be closed down for several days.
Health experts had warned of a massive coronavirus outbreak in the labour-intensive RMG sector and recommended strictly following health guidelines. It is too early to ease the shutdown and allow businesses to reopen, even on a limited scale, as there is no sign that the virus is slowing down, they said.
When contacted over phone, Prof Dr Khan Abul Kalam Azad, principal of Dhaka Medical College, said if 80 percent people of the country stay at home, it will need eight weeks to control the spread of the virus, while if 90 percent stay at home, it will take a month to control the virus spread. But the same objective will take six months if the percentage of people staying home comes down to 70 percent.
Contacted, Faisal Samad, Senior Vice President of BGMEA, apex body of the garments sector, said the reopened factories started production with limited number of workers, apparently only “the ones residing near the factories”.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Police on April 27 allowed eateries to prepare and sell Iftar items.
Contacted, Deputy Commissioner (Media) of the DMP Masudur Rahman said police have been trying to keep the city dwellers at home. Even, DMP's mobile courts have been fining city dwellers every day for going out unnecessarily.
"City dwellers have to stay home as part of civic responsibility. It is not possible for Police alone to fully ensure they stay home and maintain social distancing unless they (City dwellers) cooperate," he said.
On March 23, the government declared general holidays from March 26 to April 4, aiming to protect people from being infected by the fast spreading virus as elsewhere in the world.
Later, the holidays were extended five times until April 25 -– first from April 5 to April 9, then from April 10 to April 14, later from April 15 to April 16, then again from April 17 to April 25 and finally from April 25 to May 5.
On Monday, the government decided to allow businesspeople to keep shops and shopping malls open till 4 pm every day maintaining health guidelines during the general holidays extended until May 16 considering Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr.
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In line with the extended general holidays, the Roads and Highways Division (RHD) said the public transport services will also remain suspended until May 16.