The Bangladesh government on Thursday locked down vulnerable Shibchar upazila in Madaripur district as three more COVID-19 patients were identified on the day, raising the total number of the infected persons to 17 in the country, including one death.
The government also assigned the army with the responsibility to set up a temporary health facility at the Tongi Ijtema ground for housing and treating the novel virus-infected patients.
The government also cancelled the leave of all doctors and other healthcare providers until further notice to deal with the coronavirus situation.
‘We have assigned the army to prepare the Tongi Ijtema ground on the bank of the River Turag for a makeshift hospital to treat COVID-19 patients,’ health minister Zahid Maleque said at a press conference at the Secretariat.
‘We are also cancelling the leaves of all healthcare providers until further notice,’ he added.
The minister said that particular areas would be locked down if the coronavirus situation worsened there.
He identified Faridpur and Madaripur, especially Shibchar upazila in Madaripur, as vulnerable areas since most of the people in quarantine and coronavirus patients came from those areas.
He said that over 5,000 expatriates were already in home quarantine in the country, acknowledging that many expatriates were not following quarantine rules.
‘Many such people were fined and we warn the rule violators to be prepared to go to jail,’ he said.
Hours after his announcement, the Shibchar local administration announced locking down the upazila.
Shibchar upazila nirbahi officer M Asaduzzaman at a meeting with public representatives and officials announced that all shops and businesses, except medicine stores, groceries, kitchen markets and restaurants, in the upazila would remain closed until further notice.
The movement of public transports, including engine-run rickshaw vans, would also be suspended in the area until further notice, he added.
He went on that all public gatherings, including in marriage events, religious rituals or prayers and political rallies, would too remain prohibited.
Madaripur deputy commissioner Md Wahidul Islam said that the movement of people to and from Shibchar, one of the four upazilas of Madaripur district, was restricted since Thursday afternoon as part of the lockdown.
Bangladesh for the first time locked down any particular area to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Earlier, the educational institutions were closed and the travellers from European countries except Britain were barred from entering the country to this end.
The health minister said that the situation was still under control as the government was relentlessly working on the issue for the past two months.
He said that they were concerned about the safety of the doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers and arranged the highest possible protection for them and hoped that the doctors would serve the nation ‘which is their duty’.
In another development, the entry of visitors to the Secretariat was restricted.
The home ministry in an official order Thursday afternoon suspended the entry of the temporary pass holders to the installation and asked the officials concerned not to issue entry passes until further notice.
Earlier in the day, Directorate General of Health Services director general Abul Kalam Azad at a press conference at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research said that three more COVID-19 patients were identified in the country.
Among them one is female and two are male and all are family members of an Italy returnee who had earlier been infected with the virus, he said.
The health boss said that 19 other suspected COVID-19 patients were now in isolation in hospital and 43 people were in institutional quarantine.
Bangladesh on March 8 confirmed for the first time that three people were identified with COVID-19.
So far, 17 people were identified to be infected with the deadly virus and of them a 70-year old man died on Wednesday.
COVID-19 has already wreaked a global havoc as it has claimed some 9,000 lives and infected over two lakh people so far, forcing many countries to lock down their cities and close their borders.
The disease, believed to have spread from a market in Wuhan of China in late December, has now turned Europe into its new epicentre.
Health Services chief Azad said that there was no community transmission reported in the country and the infected people either returned from abroad or were their family members.
Bangladesh is testing only these two groups of people for the virus as the check-up of other types of people is still not done.
So far, 397 people were tested in the country although over six lakh people, including over 6,000 in the past 24 hours, have entered Bangladesh since January 21.
The Health Services DG said that suspected pneumonia patients were being tested randomly from communities but could not provide any data as to how many people were tested from communities so far.
He said that plans were already taken to decentralise the testing facilities as still the IEDCR was the sole agency to test for the COVID-19 infection in the country.
COVID-19 testing facilities will be opened at each of the country’s eight divisions except Barishal as only these seven divisional cities have biosafety laboratories, Azad said.
He assured that adequate number of test kits and personal protective equipment for healthcare providers were in stock.
Also more of these materials are in the pipeline, he added.
He mentioned that one lakh test kits and 10 lakh PPE items would arrive in the country soon.
Azad further said that the government had every preparation to prepare existing hospitals across the country for treating COVID-19 patients and to set up makeshift facilities if the situation demanded.
In another development, Biman Bangladesh Airlines has suspended its flights to and from Singapore and the United Arab Emirates over the coronavirus pandemic.
Biman flights were cancelled to and from some 80 per cent of its international destinations as of Thursday, officials said.
Biman on Thursday also announced the cancellation of at least 28 more domestic flights until March 23 due to shortage of passengers besides suspending 14 other weekly flights between March 21 and April 3, they said.
Biman managing director and chief executive officer Md Mokabbir Hossain said that they suspended all flights to and from Dubai and Abu Dhabi between March 19 and March 31.
The Saudia airline on Thursday flew back 406 more Bangladeshis from Riyadh on the day as passengers from different countries continued to enter the country.
Meanwhile, Chattogram Metropolitan Police on Thursday banned all sorts of social gatherings in Chattogram, reports the New Age Staff Correspondent quoting CMP commissioner Mahbubur Rahman.
The CMP ordered all hotels, restaurants, community centres and club owners not to take any booking for any social gathering.
The commissioner said that this order would remain in force until further notice.
The CMP also banned gatherings at tourist spots like Patenga sea beach, Foy’s Lake, Jamboori Field and Chattogram Zoo.