Bangladesh opts for reopening amid rising coronavirus infection

Mustafizur Rahman and Manzur H Maswood | Published: 23:54, May 28,2020 | Updated: 04:23, May 29,2020


The government has allowed reopening of all offices and public transports on a limited scale on conditions amid the rising number of COVID-19 deaths and detections as the general holiday imposed for containing the pandemic ends on May 30 after over two months.

It has, however, extended the restrictions on businesses and public movement for another 15 days.

‘All government, semi-government, autonomous and non-government offices would remain open in their respective arrangements on a limited scale. People having risks, illnesses and pregnant women shall refrain from attending offices,’ said a circular issued by the Cabinet Division on Thursday.

The educational institutions would, however, remain closed as long as the restrictions are in force. 

The decision came at a time when the number of the daily infections crossed 2,000 and the death toll from the disease registered 559 till Thursday morning.

The number of total infections recorded till March 31 was 51 when only five people died of the novel coronavirus infection after its detection on March 8. 

Cases spiralled after frequent breaches of social distancing rules and reopening of factories and businesses. Till Thursday morning, 40,321 were found infected in Bangladesh. 

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University former vice-chancellor Nazrul Islam said that they were afraid that the rate of infections would increase further following today’s government decision to relax the restrictions.

We said earlier that easing of lockdown [on May 10] would give us a clearer picture. We did find that the infection rate spiralled after the lockdown was eased,’ he said.  

Nazrul, also member of the National Technical Committee on COVID-19 and a noted virologist, said that the government did not consult the technical committee before announcing the decision.

He said they would send the technical committee’s recommendations to the government by Friday where they would discourage the government against the relaxation of the public movement in the situation.

The circular said that all concerned will have to strictly maintain the 13-point health guideline issued by the health services division.

‘Public transports, passenger water vessels and trains will operate carrying fixed number of passengers in keeping with the health guideline. All will have to wear masks and follow instructions of the health division,’ it said.

The civil aviation authority would decide about the operations of flights, it added.

‘We have to be habituated to some new practices and restrictions to contain the coronavirus infections effectively as we cannot afford the closure of all businesses and offices for a longer period,’ state minister for public administration Farhad Hossain said.

He told New Age that the local administrations in the districts and Dhaka Metropolitan Police in the capital would sit with transport owners to decide to what extent they would be allowed to resume operation in this situation.

The public administration ministry in a gazette extended the restrictions on public movement and overall activities till June 15.

The general holiday that was extended in phases since March 26 would not be extended further, the junior minister added.  

Jahangirnagar University economics professor Anu Muhammad said it had been yet another example of inconsistent decision-making by the government after it failed to implement the shutdown properly apparently to serve business interests.

He referred to the ordeal faced by the readymade garment workers on April 4 as a major blunder during the shutdown in addition to the movement of millions of people during the just-concluded Eid festival.

Besides, the government failure to ensure food safety forced many to overlook the social distancing rules, he observed.   

Asked for comments, health ministry’s additional secretary Habibur Rahman Khan, also head of the media cell on COVID-19, said that the government expected that people and the authorities concerned would maintain physical distancing and health safety measures as they already became accustomed to some hygiene practices in the coronavirus situation.

‘The authorities would monitor the situation and trend of infections for the next 15 days and review the decision taken in consultation with the national committee on COVID-19,’ he added.

Former Bangladesh Medical Association president and also former pro-vice-chancellor of BSMMU Rashid-e-Mahbub said that the country was going to face a catastrophic situation when people could not be accommodated at hospitals.

He said that the current COVID-19 situation vividly depicted a ‘picture of failure’.

Thursday’s circular said no one shall leave work stations during the restriction period and people’s movement from one district to another would be strictly monitored by installing check-posts.

Although the government eased the ongoing restrictions early this month allowing reopening of shops and markets and movement of public transports in the city roads on a limited scale, the guideline on maintaining social distancing and cleanliness were hardly followed.

In most cases the authorities have apparently left the enforcement of restrictions to the individuals. 

The circular said that people must stay at home to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and no one would be allowed to go out at night from 8:00pm to 6:00am without an emergency. The provision is already in force, though widely violated.

It said the ban on meetings, mass gatherings and functions would remain in force. Devotees would be able to perform prayers at mosques in jamaat and in other religious institutions maintaining health guideline.

As before, emergency services, including health, sanitation, electricity, water, gas and other fuels, fire service, mass media, telephone and internet, postal service and the land, river and sea ports would remain outside the purview of the restrictions, said the circular. 

Besides, all trucks, lorries, cargo vessels engaged in goods transport, workers engaged in dealing with agricultural produces, fertilisers, pesticides, food, industrial products, goods of state’s projects, kitchen markets, food, pharmacies, hospitals and emergency services would also remain in operation.

Doctors and medical staff, vehicles and personnel engaged in the pharmaceutical industries as well as medical equipment-carrying vehicles and people working in the print and electronic media would remain out of the purview of the restriction, it said.

The Bangladesh Bank would provide necessary directions about keeping the banks open full time.

The health services division on May 11 issued a 13-point instruction set for the offices under all the ministries.

It asked the public works ministry to make necessary number of disinfection tunnels and disinfect all the office rooms, premises and adjacent roads before the offices reopen. 

It also advised setting up of thermal scanners at the entrance of every ministry and department office.

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