THE COVID-19 outbreak has so far infected 266,498 people and left 3,513 dead since the first detection of infection in March. With 2,995 people coming to have tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, as official records say, the infection rate stands at 20.46 and the death rate at 1.32. The figures imply that COVID-19 health regulations must be strictly followed. After a three-month restriction on vehicle movement, the government allowed public transports to run with adherence to health safety rules that include maintaining social distance, disinfecting vehicles and personal protective equipment for transport workers. The authorities specifically instructed transport owners to carry passengers to half the seating capacity. The government also increased bus fare by 60 per cent so that transport owners do not incur losses. It is worrying that public transports now run in blatant violation of health safety rules because of relaxed monitoring by the authorities concerned.
The primary violation, as is widely reported, is that city service and inter-district buses run to or, in some cases, beyond the capacity, but still charge the increased fare. The Passengers’ Welfare Association reports that some operators collect Tk 2,800 to Tk 3,000 from each passenger on the Jashore-Chattogram route when the rate was Tk 800 earlier. A passenger on the Dhaka-Tangail route also complained of the way operators exploit the COVID-19 emergency for profiteering. The action of the authorities concerned seems to be limited to issuing directives. Acknowledging the gross violation of health regulations, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority requested divisional commissioners to monitor the situation and run mobile courts. In Dhaka and Chattogram cities, about 13 executive magistrates are running mobile courts to monitor the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations in public transport sector, yet most violations are observed in these cities. The road transport authority should, therefore, review its reliance on occasional mobile court drives and consider making systemic change in operation that will include a strict monitoring. The economic survival of transport workers, left without a job and any protection for more than three months, needs to be acknowledged as a persistent job insecurity often leaves them with no choice but to take the risk.
National and international health organisations have urged governments to consider public transports as main hotspots of COVID-19 spread and take preventive measures. In Bangladesh, the government’s decision to increase bus fare has economically burdened passengers, but failed to ensure their safety. The government must, therefore, take immediate steps to ensure strict enforcement of health regulations and take action against non-compliant transports and financially support transport workers. A rampant violation of health safety today appears to be the continuation of persistent irregularities in the public transport sector and the government must attend to such problems.
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