A mad scramble to get home | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:14 AM, March 26, 2020

A mad scramble to get home

Thousands ignore govt advice to stay indoors, leave capital posing serious risk of spreading coronavirus

Ignoring the government advice to stay home, people in droves continued to leave Dhaka for their village homes yesterday.

This increased the risk that the coronavirus might spread across the country, say experts.

As the operations of launch, domestic flight, and passenger train were suspended from Tuesday until further notice, people yesterday took road transport to reach homes as the government is going to place all public transport services on roads on "lockdown" from today until April 4.

The pressure of people and vehicles was so intense that around 30km stretch of the Dhaka-Tangail highway in Tangail witnessed gridlock for hours, while 300 to 500 vehicles got stuck at ferry terminals on the Shimulia-Kathalbari and Paturia-Daulatdia routes that linked Dhaka with 21 southern districts.

During March 26 to April 4, freight trains, cargo vessels, trucks, and lorries carrying goods, medicine, fuel and perishable items will, however, operate as usual, according to directives from different ministries.

The government on Monday announced closure of all public and private offices from March 26 to April 4 as part of its efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Announcing a series of measures at a press conference on that day, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam advised people not to go outside homes unless they need to collect food, medicine or receive treatment.

Besides, the health ministry on many occasions asked people to maintain social distance.

But soon after the announcement of the public holiday on Monday, a huge number of city dwellers started leaving the capital using buses, trains, and launches, forcing the government to change its earlier decision not to shut down public transport completely.

Experts fear the government decision to close down offices, without adequate measures to make people stay indoors, could further help spread the virus throughout the country.

"The objective with which the government closed offices was not successful. The virus could spread across the country, as so many people, who left for homes, crammed in buses, trains and launches," Prof Nazrul Islam, virologist and former vice chancellor at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

SITUATION WORSENS

Pressure of passengers mounted on roads yesterday due to the suspension of operations of train and launch services, said Khondaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association.

Thousands of people left Dhaka, ignoring the risk of being infected with the coronavirus, Enayet, also the owner of ENA Transport Ltd, told this correspondent yesterday.

He added that they would suspend bus operations from today as per the government directive.

Apart from long-route buses, people travelled in local buses and even in pickups and trucks, turning the situation similar to Eid rush, transport operators said.

An acute traffic jam was created on the Dhaka-Tangail highway at Mirzapur and Kalihati upazilas of Tangail for 16 hours from Tuesday evening, causing immense sufferings of the home-bound people as well as transport workers.

The gridlock on the highway that connects Dhaka with northern districts started to ease after 11:00am yesterday, police said.

On the other hand, most of the passengers were travelling without wearing adequate protective gears to keep themselves safe from coronavirus infection.

Except the huge pressure of vehicles, poor condition of the highway at several points and construction work of an underpass at Kodim Dhalla made the gridlock acute, saidMohammad Moniruzzaman, officer-in-charge of Gorai Highway Police Station.

Truck driver Chan Lal said they started for Rajshahi from Dhaka around 7:00pm on Tuesday, but the vehicle remained stuck at Postkamuri in Mirzapur for three hours. 

Faruk Hossain said he was travelling to Rajshahi on a pickup as he did not get any bus.

In another development, ferries running on the Shimulia-Kathalbari route in the Padma faced the increasing pressure of passengers on Tuesday as the authorities suspended operations of launch and speedboat services.

The authorities were forced to stop vehicles from getting into ferries, and only passengers were allowed to board them.

The situation improved very little yesterday as over 500 vehicles, mostly smaller ones, were stranded at the Shimulia end around 2:00pm, a staff of the ferry terminal said. "Still, we are mostly carrying passengers."

Risking their lives, a good number of people used trawlers to cross the river,he said wishing anonymity.

At Paturia-Daulatdia ferry terminal, around 300 vehicles got stuck there at around 4:00pm yesterday.

An angry passenger asked, "Why did not the government shut down public transport before announcing holiday?"

Our correspondents in Tangail and Manikganj contributed to this report. 

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