Buying masks a burden for poor in Bangladesh

Tapos Kanti Das | Published: 23:32, Dec 02,2020 | Updated: 23:49, Dec 02,2020


People who live from hand to mouth said that they were unable to maintain mandatory use of masks for their family members while coming out of their homes as buying masks means an additional financial burden.

Some of them said that they only carry masks so that they can put them on while passing major city roads to avoid the vigilant eyes of people running mobile courts on city roads.

‘We never use them in our areas to save money,’ they added.

Though the masks are available and a one-time mask cost them Tk 5-10 and a reusable mask Tk 20-30, poor people consider them put a financial burden on them while they continue to struggle to meet the basic needs of their families amidst increasing food prices in the lingering coronavirus outbreak.

Some urged the government to provide them with masks until the end of the COVID-19 crisis.

‘It is not possible for me to avail masks for each of my five family members as it costs Tk 20 to Tk 30 a day. I carry one to avoid any untoward incident as mobile courts are being operated across the city,’ said Abdul Halim, a rickshaw puller of  Kadamtala area in Dhaka on Tuesday.

Halima Khatun, a widow who lost her job as part time house-help and now selling spinach on a road at Basabo on Tuesday, said, ‘How is it possible to buy masks while my earning has reduced to Tk 150-300 a day since COVID-19 hit the country. It is a luxury for me to buy masks and cut down on the budget for food for my two children.’

A five-member expert committee of the Directorate General of Health Services on November 25 submitted a 13-point recommendation including distribution of masks free of cost to check the second wave of COVID-19 infections during the winter.

The government, in a bid to check the possible second wave of COVID-19 infection in the country, began mobile courts since November 17, a day after the cabinet secretary, Khandker Anwarul Islam, after a cabinet meeting said that instruction to launch mobile courts was given to law enforcement agencies for ensuring mandatory use of masks in all public places including markets, transports and offices.

The cabinet meeting on October 25 presided over by prime minister  Sheikh Hasina asked the agencies concerned to follow the ‘no mask, no service’ policy in any public gathering at markets, offices, mosques and other religious and educational institutions to check the further spread of COVID-19 infections.

Cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam, after the latest weekly cabinet meeting on Monday, said that the agencies concerned were asked to fine maximum for ignoring the government order for mandatory use of masks.

‘We would observe the situation for another week and go for stricter measures to ensure that all the citizens wear masks in public places,’ he added.

The cabinet secretary further said that the government has plans to distribute reusable masks among the poor so that they remain free of any financial worries.

The local administrations across the country had been operating mobile courts and campaigning to increase people’s awareness about the possible second wave of infection so that people wear masks mandatorily at public places.

The mobile courts have been fining the affluent people but distributing masks among the poor and informing them about the benefit of using masks during the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

‘Fining people is not our target. Our target is to make them aware,’ said Dhaka district administration’s executive magistrate Afrin Haque while conducting a mobile court at capital’s Dainik Bangla crossing.

The mobile courts in Dhaka fined 1,084 people Tk 2,56,910 and distributed 17,000 masks free of cost in 11 days till November 27, according to Dhaka district administration data.

‘It is really hard for me to use masks everyday as I do not get work every day,’ said day labourer Aminul Islam of Tejgaon area who came to Karwanbazar Tuesday morning to find work.

‘It would be better if the government gives us masks. We are even running our families by borrowing money nowadays,’ said rickshaw-puller Hasmot Ali of Shakrail area in Tangail.

Khulna deputy commissioner Mohammad Helal Hossain told New Age on Tuesday that they had taken initiatives to provide the poor with reusable cotton masks during mobile courts. ‘Besides, some masks will be distributed among the poor people through local government elected representatives,’ he added.

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