As part of its strategy to contain the spread of Covid-19, the government has extended the ongoing lockdown till May 16. During this time, all inter-district bus, launch and train services will remain suspended. However, the administration will allow public transport to operate within the cities and districts from May 6.
We believe that lockdown is the only way to address the transmission of Covid-19 and rein in the pandemic, but the way we have gone about the business so far has been at best halfhearted, if not warped. While public transport has been off the streets, private vehicles have not. In the first stages of the lockdown, before April 14, public offices were closed, but not private ones. Later on, all offices were closed except essential services, and restaurants and factories were allowed to operate as well, but no directives were given on how the workers in these industries are meant to reach their workplaces without public transportation. It would have been judicious if government transport could run with health caveats imposed and enforced strictly.
Understandably, this transport-suspension measure is intended to prevent the coronavirus affecting the outlying areas of the country, which so far have remained relatively free from the pandemic. However, the two Eid festivals are when there is a large exodus of people from Dhaka to other parts of the country and vice versa, although the inflow into Dhaka is not as high as the outflow. We, therefore, wonder if the administration would be able to prevent people from moving out of the workplace towards home, albeit for three days. Given the fact that intra-district buses will be allowed to operate, people will district-hop to reach home. While ordinary people will have to pay through their noses, the transport owners will make hay by charging them at their will, which they do during these festivals. With rail and launch services also suspended, it is possible that all hell will break loose on the streets.
While we appreciate the intention of the government in suspending long range public transport, the suspension is likely to be circumvented by innovative travellers. The government will therefore have to take into account such possibilities and be equally innovative in their approach to stopping people from spreading the virus to the villages.