The government on Monday announced public holidays from March 29 to April 2, the deployment of army personnel, limiting the public gatherings and mass transports to check the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
The 5-day general holidays will, however, automatically turn into a 10-day vacation because they coincide with the public holiday on the occasion of the Independence Day on March 26 and the weekends on March 27-28 and April 3-4.
The public holidays will apply to offices and establishments excepting those providing emergency services, said cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam while announcing the measures at an impromptu press briefing at the Secretariat in the afternoon.
He said that all mass gatherings — social, political and religious — were also banned due to the prevailing situation.
The cabinet secretary said that the army would be deployed from today in aid of the civil administration in all the divisional cities and district towns to ensure social distancing that according to him was the top most priority of the government now.
In coordination with the district magistrates, the army will monitor the mandatory home quarantine of all those returning from foreign countries and others concerned and the treatment of the COVID-19 patients and suspects, he said.
COVID-19, spreading worldwide since its outbreak in China in December, has already infected 33 people and killed at least three in Bangladesh.
The Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate in a release later on the day said that the army, navy and air force would remain deployed in aid of the civil administration in divisional cities and district towns considering the possible spread of the coronavirus, which is now a pandemic.
The navy would assist the civil administration in coastal areas while the air force would remain engaged in the supply of essential medical equipment and in the emergency transportation, said the release.
Anwarul Islam said that the general people were asked not to go outside of their home other than for emergency needs like collecting food and drugs and for treatment and funeral.
Public transports would be operating on a limited scale with adequate safety measures, he said.
The press conference was attended, among others, by principal secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office Ahmed Kaikaus and health secretary Md Ashadul Islam.
Responding to a query, Ahmed Kaikaus said that the apparel industry owners would decide whether the factories would remain open.
Necessary precautions should be ensured for the workers’ safety as they are engaged in making masks and personal protection equipment which are essential in the present situation, he said.
Responding to another query about limiting the public gatherings at places like mosques, the officials said that practising Muslims should abide by the suggestions offered by the Islamic Foundation and scholars.
Among other measures, the officials said, the public offices which will consider their work essential during the holidays can keep them open and the Bangladesh Bank will take measures to keep the banking system operational on a limited scale.
The measures will also include those to address sufferings of the low income people who would not be able to stay in the cities amid the slowdown in economic activities, they said.
They can take assistances from a state-run project called the ‘Retuning Home’, said the officials, adding that they could also go to shelter houses in Bhasanchar, once built for transferring one lakh forcefully displaced Rohingyas there.
Besides, the deputy commissioners have already been asked to provide food and financial assistances to poor, they said.
They said that a directive was given to Bangladesh Medical Association to make a list of 500 medical doctors who would be able to work for tackling the outbreak.
At a separate event, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association president Rubana Huq said that they advised factories to exercise their own discretion regarding factory closure.
‘We don’t have the authority to close these. Only the government does,’ she said.
Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association on Monday decided that the member factories of the trade body would continue their operation with adequate precautionary measures.
At an emergency meeting of the board of directors, BKMEA decided that the trade body would wait until March 25 for an instruction from the prime minister about the factory closure
The government has earlier closed all educational institutions effective from March 18 to March 31, asking the students to stay at home as part of precaution.
The Bangladesh Shop Owners Association on Sunday announced that all markets and shopping malls, except groceries and medicine shops, would remain closed from March 25 to March 31.
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