Offices, transports reopen in Bangladesh amid virus scare

Depts asked to rotate employees for ensuring health safety

Mustafizur Rahman and Shahin Akhter | Published: 23:42, May 31,2020 | Updated: 23:57, May 31,2020


Left, cars and minivans fills in a road at Motijheel, while passengers get on a ferry without maintaining physical distance at Sadarghat in Dhaka on Sunday as offices and transport services reopened amid the coronavirus outbreak. — New Age photo

The government and private offices reopened on Sunday on a limited scale over two months after the nationwide shutdown began amid fears of further increase in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

People in places had to suffer for lack of public transports in reaching office in time, said sufferers.

Officials said that most offices at the Bangladesh Secretariat had thin presence with hardly any visitors as many ministers were doing their office from their residence in the novel coronavirus situation. 

The public administration ministry has, meanwhile, asked all departments concerned to rotate their officers and staff to make sure only those essential to attend offices wearing masks.

‘We have asked all departments to make a rotation of employees for duties so that they could maintain the health safety for all,’ state minister for public administration Farhad Hossain told New Age.

He said that the ministers were asked to go to office only when it was essential. 

‘We have observed today that several offices had high attendances, which would be rationalised. One can even leave office after one hour if his duty is over,’ the junior minister said.

A deputy secretary said most offices were keeping sanitisers and obeying other safety instructions.

‘But we are afraid that many of our staff stay in mess houses where around a dozen men live in a room,’ he expressed concern.

Several ministers and state ministers, including education minister, food minister, information minister, state minister for shipping, state minister for LGRD and cooperatives and state minister for culture, were in their offices at the Secretariat, officials said.  

The general holiday that had been imposed for containing the coronavirus pandemic and extended in phases since March 26 ended on May 30. 

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

People at risks, with illnesses and pregnant women have been asked to refrain from attending their office, according to a circular of the Cabinet Division issued on Thursday. 

The decision of reopening came at a time when the number of the daily infections crossed 2,500 and the death toll from the disease registered 650 till Sunday morning.

The National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19 has already cautioned the government about the consequences of relaxing the restrictions on the public movement before the number of infections dips to a certain level.

It apprehended that the novel coronavirus infections would increase massively in the country, putting pressure on the country’s already inadequate health system if the restrictions on the public movement are relaxed without ensuring effective measures to control the spread of the infections.  

Till March 31 the total infections recorded was 51 while only five people died of the disease after its detection on March 8. 

Cases spiralled after frequent breaches of the social distancing rule and reopening of factories and businesses. Till Sunday morning, 47,153 people were detected coronavirus positive in Bangladesh. 

The government circular said that all concerned would have to strictly maintain the 13-point health guideline issued by the Health Services Division.

It asked the authorities concerned to take necessary measures to disinfect all office rooms, premises and adjacent roads before the offices reopened. 

It also advised that thermal scanners be set up at the entrance of every ministry and department office and install isolation facility for anyone falling sick at the office.

‘The health guideline has largely been maintained with some lapses on the first day. We will be observing the situation and the trend of infections for the next two weeks to review the reopening decision,’ said health ministry additional secretary Habibur Rahman Khan, also the head of the media cell on COVID-19.

He said that most employees at the government offices were found wearing masks.

‘We, however, found crowds at the Secretariat gates hampering proper functions of thermal scanners,’ the official added. 

People suffered in the capital for shortage of public transports on the first workday after the general holiday.

Launches and trains resumed services on the day while road transports resume operations today on conditions of maintaining health safety.  

Social distancing was absent on roads and launches while few passengers were seen on trains on the day.

Office-bound people had to count extra-money charged by drivers of CNG-powered auto-rickshaws and rickshaw pullers.

People from different walks of life were seen gathering on streets in Dhanmondi, Karwanbazar, Banglamotor, Shajahanpur and Kamalapur areas for transports at about 12:00pm and 2:00pm on the day.

‘Without bus services it’s just a torture on the common people,’ said Habib, a passenger who was waiting for transport at Karwanbazar.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority chairman Md Yousub Ali Mollah said that they had sent a letter to the 12 ride-sharing companies registered under the BRTA on Saturday asking them to keep shut the services of all ride-sharers across the country until further notice.

‘It’s impossible to ensure social distancing on the motorcycles,’ he said.


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