Bangladesh in virtual lockdown as coronavirus fight flares

With a nationwide shutdown of the transport system after announcement on general holidays in desperate efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Bangladesh has apparently locked down its 160 million people.

Published : 24 March 2020, 09:26 PM
Updated : 24 March 2020, 11:51 PM

The virus that causes the illness COVID-19 has hit 169 countries, infecting over 400,000 people and killing more than 18,000 until early Wednesday.

Bangladesh has 39 known cases with four confirmed deaths.

Considering that the effects of an outbreak in the densely populated country will be catastrophic, the government had earlier imposed restrictions on gatherings and closed educational institutions.

After the announcement on the shutdown of offices with a 10-day general holiday from Mar 26, people had already headed home in villages and towns from major cities, including capital Dhaka that hosts more than 20 million people.

The pressure became immense when the government suspended all rail links on Tuesday morning.

The situation turned worse as desperate homebound people rushed to board buses when Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader in the afternoon announced the “lockdown” of public transport during the holidays.

The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority also suspended launch services from Tuesday. Only those already at the Sadarghat Launch Terminal left Dhaka, but were packed to several times their capacity.

‘Sumon’, a garment factory worker who was waiting to catch a Bohura bus at Mohakhali, said he was returning home as the factory was shut amid the coronavirus scare.

“The owner said he will call us once the factory reopens. I will return then,” he said.

Sazzad Hossain Sumon, a contractor of Titas Gas, said there is no work in Dhaka now and so he was going home in Rangpur. He has no one who can look after him should he fall ill in the city.

“My cook is not coming for some days as well. It will be difficult to get food. I am leaving because it is better to be with the family in this time of danger,” Sumon reasoned.

Nasir Uddin, assistant general manager of Ekota Paribahan, said the number of travellers had dropped when the first known case had been reported in the country earlier this month.

Travellers began arriving at the terminal in their hundreds after the announcement of the general holidays on Monday, he said.

“More passengers are coming today after hearing about the lockdown. All our tickets have sold out,” Nasir said.

At Gabtoli Bus Terminal, there was confusion over travel on some routes that require cross-river ferrying of vehicles.

Magura-bound Mohammad Imran Khan said he bought a ticket to a river port with the hope of crossing it by a passenger launch.

“We are struggling to tackle thousands of passengers. It will take until midnight to send these people home. We don’t have so many buses in the terminal,” said Abul Kalam, the president of Mohakhali Terminal Inter-District Bus Owners’ Association.

“We had tried to provide them with some hand sanitiser, but it’s difficult to manage so many people,” he added. 

Thousands crowded Kamalapur Railway Station, most of them for ticket refunds.   

The authorities said the passengers would not get their money back, triggering a tumult in the afternoon. But the authorities eventually decided to refund the clients in the face of protests.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher