Export and import activities through Chattogram port may face a fresh round of setback as the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus is spreading like wildfire among the employees of the premier seaport and the customs house.
Three port employees have died while 35 staffers, including 14 from the customs, have tested positive for COVID-19 until Saturday.
Port and customs officials said it was not possible to maintain social distancing as about 12,000 people, including importers, clearing and forwarding agents, shipping agents, port workers, and truck drivers and helpers, come to the port area every day.
"The customs house was open round-the-clock during the general holidays. Though we have taken several measures to fight the novel coronavirus, maintaining social distancing is quite impossible due to the huge number of service recipients coming every day," said Fakhrul Alam, commissioner of the Chattorgram customs house.
About 3,000-4,000 trucks and covered vans from different parts of the country enter the port area a day with more than 6,000-8,000 drivers and assistants, according to Omar Farooq, secretary of the Chittagong Port Authority.
Besides, more than 4,000-5,000 C&F agents, port workers and shipping agents remain busy at the port jetties, he said.
"We are trying our best but still it's a gigantic task to ensure social distancing among all these people."
Farooq said they collect samples from 15 employees every day through the Chattogram port hospital and send those to the laboratory for coronavirus test.
"We know it's not enough. So we have requested the health department to set up a separate coronavirus testing booth for us. I hope it will be possible in two or three days."
A customs official, who has been struck by COVID-19, said each floor of the three-storey building of the customs house remains crowded every moment.
"Thousands of people enter the building and they have to move through a narrow staircase. The employees are at risk as they do not have proper personal protective equipment."
Altaf Hossain, general secretary of the C&F Agents' Association, said the customs and port authorities were working with half the manpower than required.
"As a result, it takes more time to get our work done," he said, adding that they had directed their employees to wear masks and follow other safety guidelines.