Amid a sharp spike in coronavirus cases, the government may extend the ongoing shutdown by at least another week as part of its efforts to contain the outbreak.
If extended, the shutdown will then end on May 2. It would be the fourth extension since the government first announced the closure of all public and private offices from March 26 to April 4.
The matter was discussed at a high-profile meeting at the Cabinet Division yesterday.
At the meeting, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said people have to stay home at any cost, and law enforcers have to be as tough as needed to ensure the shutdown, meeting sources said.
Presided over by Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque, the meeting was attended also by the information and foreign ministers, and state ministers for disaster management and relief, and labour and employment.
The inspector general of police and cabinet secretary were also present. Officials of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) joined via video conferencing, the sources added.
“All the decisions [taken at the meeting] would be compiled now, and the health minister will communicate those to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her approval,” one of the ministers who participated at the meeting told The Daily Star.
The meeting decided that law enforcers have to take tougher measures in the worst-hit areas, including Dhaka, amid reports of people coming out of their homes without specific reasons and ultimately increasing the risk of further spread.
Earlier yesterday, DGHS announced that nine people died of the coronavirus infection in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 110. Besides, 434 people tested positive during the same period, raising the total number of infected people to 3,382.
Bangladesh reported its first Covid-19 case on March 8 and the first death on March 18. On March 23, the government announced the shutdown of all public and private offices from March 26 to April 4 as a measure to slow the contagion.
Hospitals, kitchen markets, drug stores, media outlets and emergency services remained outside the purview of the shutdown.
The following day, the government decided to suspend all public transport services, inching closer to enforcing a lockdown. Later, the government extended the shutdown till April in three phases.
Although, law enforcers and even the Bangladesh Army are on the field to ensure social distancing to prevent Covid-19 from spreading, many people are coming out of their homes. While many poor people had to take to the streets to find relief or some work, many others are roaming the streets with either an unimportant or no purpose.
DISCUSSIONS AT THE MEETING
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said that even during the pandemic some Rohingyas have crossed into Bangladesh, and the authorities concerned must ensure that none can enter the country at this time.
He also mentioned that many countries are putting pressure on Dhaka to bring back undocumented Bangladeshis working there. Meanwhile, some 1,200 to 1,300 Bangladeshis are now stranded in many countries, including India and Singapore, Momen told the meeting.
In this regard, a minister told this newspaper that the meeting decided to bring all those undocumented Bangladeshis back but in phases if they bring documents from those countries, which can certify that they tested negative for coronavirus.
Once here, they would be home-quarantined or sent into institutional quarantine, the minister said, preferring anonymity.
The meeting also talked about the measures taken to protect doctors, nurses and other health workers, who are now on the frontlines in the fight against Covid-19.
They discussed whether there were any lapses in the measures, the minister said, adding that the safety of law enforcers and government officials on the field were also discussed.
At least 205 doctors have been infected with coronavirus till yesterday, while around 130 nurses and other health workers have also gotten infected mainly due to the “poor quality” of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), community transmission and many patients’ tendency to hide symptoms of the disease, according to Bangladesh Doctors’ Foundation.
The minister said the meeting also discussed the possibility of opening factories and other economic activities where the infection rate is still low.
The government would request private hospitals and private practitioners to open their hospitals and chambers to join the battle against the pandemic, he said.
“At least they [can] provide telemedicine in this crisis,” he added.
The health secretary said 250 beds have been readied at two private hospitals in the capital to treat Covid-19 patients. Of them, 200 beds are at Anwar Khan Modern Medical College Hospital and 50 at Universal Medical College & Hospital Ltd.
Speaking to the Daily Star, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said extension of the ongoing shutdown, preparation of hospitals to treat coronavirus patients, and harsher measures to make people stay at home were discussed.
The meeting recommended waiving restrictions of the shutdown first in those areas where people are not infected with coronavirus, he added.
He also said the meeting elaborately discussed the grave situation in Dhaka after the coronavirus outbreak. “We have discussed our capabilities in case the situation deteriorates further, as people are playing hide and seek to avoid shutdown.”
Meanwhile, the authorities have decided to keep Karwan Bazar, one of the biggest kitchen markets in Dhaka city, closed for retail sales from yesterday, as a measure to contain the spread of the virus.
Only wholesalers can trade at the market following a new schedule. However, the retailers will now sit on the road in front of the Government Science College.
Rubaiyet Zaman, additional deputy commissioner (Tejgaon division) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said the decision was taken to ensure social distancing as a number of the traders and workers have tested positive for Covid-19.
As per the new schedule, vegetable and food wholesalers will have to do trading between 9:00pm and 2:00am, while the fishermen will trade between 4:00am and 9:00am.
All vehicles will enter the market on the lane beside the CA building, the lanes in front of the Wasa Building and Hotel La Vinci, and will leave the market through the roads in front of Petrobangla and TCB Building.