Infection rise feared as restrictions ease in Bangladesh

Markets, shops reopen tomorrow

Shahin Akhter and Manzur H Maswood | Published: 00:26, Apr 24,2021 | Updated: 00:31, Apr 24,2021


People without caring for social distancing or masks crowd temporary shops after the Jumma prayers at Naya Paltan in Dhaka on Friday. — Sony Ramany

The government has further relaxed the ongoing restrictions on public movement and other activities allowing the shops and shopping malls to reopen tomorrow.

As growing number of people have been coming out for days despite Covid restrictions, the reopening of markets and malls would further encourage people to go outdoors increasing the transmission of the coronavirus, experts said.

A great number of vehicles, especially cars, CNG-run auto-rickshaws and rickshaws, poured on the Dhaka city roads in violation of the restrictions also on Friday.

With more barricades removed from roads on the day, huge numbers of people were seen at kitchen markets, super shops and shops.

Public health experts observed that coronavirus infections would rise again because of the fresh relaxation of restrictions.

Noted virologist Nazrul Islam said that such relaxation of restrictions was against the actual objective of containing the virus.

‘The aim of the “lockdown” should be breaking the chain of transmission, but the relaxation would further increase the transmission as people’s movement will increase,’ he said.

Nazrul, a former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said that the infection rate had been dropping for the past few days due to recent restrictions but it would go up again due to the relaxation as the health practices could not be maintained at the places like markets.

State minister for public administration Farhad Hossain on Friday told reporters that the ongoing restrictions would not remain after April 28, but the ‘no mask no service’ rule and social distancing would be ensured.

But Nazrul, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, said, ‘We have the experience of a nonchalant attitude among traders and buyers in shopping malls and other markets about abiding by the health rules.’ 

Epidemiologist Be-Nazir Ahmed said that the decision for the reopening of markets and malls would cost the entire nation dearly.

‘People would get infected while going for shopping, jeopardising the public health and putting pressure on health facilities again,’ he said.

‘The recent decline in the test positivity rate was an outcome of the “lockdown”, but the reopening of the malls and markets for shopping could be avoided for this year’s Eid for the sake of saving lives,’ said Be-Nazir, a former director for disease control at the Directorate General of Health Services.

He further said that the relaxation of “lockdown” would give a message to people that the severity of the coronavirus might have decreased, giving a false sense of safety among them.

According to the DGHS Covid update on Friday, the test positivity rate in the past 24 hours was 14 per cent.

When the government imposed the countrywide restrictions on April 14, the test positivity rate was above 23 per cent.

But with the progress of the restrictions the rate was gradually declining, reaching 14 per cent on Friday.

The government on April 20 extended the restrictions on public movement and other activities for a week until April 28 midnight from April 21 midnight to contain the surge in COVID-19 infections.

On Friday the Cabinet Division issued a circular allowing all shops and shopping malls to remain open from 10:00am to 5:00pm with effect from April 25 considering the life and livelihood of most of the people of Bangladesh.

The relevant agencies or market management committees will take necessary measures to ensure the compliance with the health regulations, it added.

On the 10th day of the current Covid restrictions on Friday, different types of vehicles plied the streets of the capital city and shops at roadside markets were opened.

Like any normal weekly holidays, the number of people on the roads was fewer on the day compared with past few days but rushes of people were seen at kitchen markets, super shops and other shops.

In a virtual briefing, the ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on Friday urged the party activists and rich people to come forward to help the unemployed and floating people during the ongoing restrictions.

Bangladesh logged 88 coronavirus deaths and 3,629 infections in the 24-hour period till Friday morning counting the death toll at 10,869 and infections at 7,39,703 in the country.

The previous restrictions on public movement and business activities that had come into effect on April 5 was extended till April 14 amid widespread violations as many people came out of home while others went for shopping, crowding markets despite high risks of infection in the capital as in the other cities.

Amid the restrictions from April 14, the Bangladesh Bank also issued an instruction for the banks to offer services for three hours to their customers during April 21–28.

Industries have been kept out of the purview of the shutdown.

According to the Cabinet Division notice on the restrictions, no one is permitted to move outside home without emergency and the operation of all modes of public transport, including international flights, is banned during the period of restrictions, but the restrictions were hardly complied with.

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