An eerie calm | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:10 AM, March 26, 2020

An eerie calm

One of the most densely populated cities in the world has been reduced to an eerie look of emptiness.

An unusual calm reigned over the capital for the last couple of days, as novel coronavirus fears prompted thousands of city dwellers to leave for their villages homes, and many others to stay indoors.

Yesterday, the day before the government's 10-day shutdown, the otherwise crowded and chaotic city quietened down amid a thin presence of traffic in most thoroughfares.

It was a weekday yesterday, yet most people refused to venture out unless for any urgent need. There were limited activities at government and private offices, and many establishments. A large number of shops kept their shutters down.

As morning gave way to afternoon, the empty feeling in the city only seemed to increase. In the evening, the entire capital city wore a deserted look.

For many, it was hard to come to terms with the stillness.

"It seems that coronavirus fear forced the city into slumber. It's a scary situation," said Anwar Hossain, who works in a bank in Dhanmondi.

He said many people did not come out of homes out of fear of getting infected by the virus.

The global coronavirus pandemic has taken a grim toll around the world -- more than 427,940 confirmed cases and 19,246 deaths in 181 countries according to an AFP tally compiled at 11:00 GMT Wednesday.

The country has confirmed 39 active cases and five deaths -- but public health experts fear that the low count is the result of limited testing. The country has only conducted about 794 tests so far, partly because of a shortage of testing kits.

However, the government has already responded with drastic measures and made repeated calls to citizens to stay home to stem the spread of the virus. It suspended passenger trains, launches and domestic flights. Buses, minibuses, and human hauliers will be off the roads from today.

With all modes of transport coming to a halt today, thousands of people yesterday hit the bus stations to get to their village homes in crammed buses, creating traffic jams on a number of highways.

In Dhaka, the city corporations asked dwellers through loudspeakers not to come out of homes unless urgent.

And true to the instruction, a handful of people were seen out on the streets.

Other than those who are still required to work, such as shopkeepers or retail workers, and those working in health and medical care, the city looked far from its usual self yesterday.

Usually packed places like Motijheel, Gulistan, Jatrabari, Mouchak, Moghbazar, Rampura, Karwanbazar, Mirpur, Mohakhali, Gulshan, and Banani remained free from any traffic congestion.

Only a handful of vehicles were seen plying the roads in the morning. Apart from a few buses, the number of private vehicles, including cars and microbuses, were also very thin.

There were also very few vehicles of app-based ride-sharing companies available, and people were seen preferring rickshaws for commuting.

"It almost resembles the look during Eid holidays. It took me only 20 minutes to come to office in Farmgate area from Shankar," said Mohammad Abedin, an employee of a private firm.

He said his office asked almost all the employees to work from home.

But not all offices have work-from-home options, and this is especially a challenge for many who work in the informal sector -- including domestic help, street vendors and daily wage workers.

"I heard about the dangers, but I have no choice. I have to pull my rickshaw, otherwise my family would go unfed," said Rafiq, a rickshaw puller, wearing a look of gloom on his face.

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