Heavy traffic returned to the streets of the capital after operation of public buses resumed within districts yesterday following over three weeks of suspension.
Besides, Eid shoppers continued to pour into the malls, which struggled to ensure the health safety rules. It raised concerns over the spread of Covid-19.
Addressing a virtual discussion, Health Minister Zahid Maleque yesterday said buses were allowed to run within Dhaka and other districts in the face of pressure from different quarters.
He did not elaborate on the matter.
"Train and launch services will remain suspended as the ongoing restrictions have been extended ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr," he said.
Although public buses did not run on the city streets for 22 days amid the Covid-19 restrictions, traffic had been increasing over the past few days. In the absence of public transport, people took rickshaws, CNG-run auto-rickshaws and cars on rent to reach their destinations.
Yesterday, after buses started operating again, Dhaka once again witnessed its perennial traffic congestion. Police said it happened due to a huge pressure of shoppers ahead of Eid, which will be celebrated in a week.
Buses started leaving their depots in the morning and ran on roads, including in Dhanmondi, Mirpur, Uttara, Banani and Mohakhali, at half capacity.
Passengers were seen wearing masks and strictly following the Covid safety protocols.
Those people, especially office-goers, expressed relief over the resumption of public transport.
Saeed Ahmed, who works at a private organisation in Gulshan, said it had cost him Tk 200 to go to work from his home in Mohammadpur in a CNG-run auto-rickshaw.
Yesterday, he spent only Tk 30 as he took a bus.
But experts said buses often carry passengers over the stipulated capacity and if they do so again, the coronavirus infection may spread further.
Heavy traffic congestion was seen on Mirpur Road, Elephant Road and other prominent streets in Gulshan, Banani, Mohakhali, New Market, Bangla Motor, Panthapath, and Karwan Bazar areas.
The congestion became even heavier in the afternoon. Traffic police at some key intersections were seen busy controlling traffic movement.
The government imposed restrictions on movement of people and public transport on April 5 to contain the second wave of Covid-19. The restrictions were extended till May 16 in phases.
As per a new government circular, public transport, including buses and minibuses, were allowed to operate only inside the territory of each district from yesterday. However, inter-district bus services would remain suspended in the country during the ongoing "lockdown".
Meanwhile, a huge number of cars and microbuses continue to carry passengers to and from Dhaka on rent, charging almost double the usual bus fare. The number of such vehicles is expected to go up during the Eid.
The rush at the ferry terminals is also increasing every day.
With Eid-ul-Fitr around the corner, shopping centres and malls are filled with customers.
Sellers at different shopping centres and malls said the number of customers increased yesterday. They think they would see a heavier rush at the malls today as it is the last weekend before Eid.
Visiting some major shopping malls and markets in Dhaka -- New Market, Chandni Chawk, Gausia, Noor Mansion, and Bashundhara City Mall -- yesterday, The Daily Star correspondents found customers pouring into the shops from 10:00am.
At most shopping centres, maintaining the health and safety rules appeared a big challenge due to the heavy flow of customers.
At the entry points of some markets, antiseptic mix was sprayed on customers, instead of providing them with hand sanitisers. Besides, there was not enough space inside most of the shops to maintain physical distancing.
Lifestyle brand Aarong's Asad Gate branch was fined Tk 1 lakh for not maintaining health safety rules by a mobile court. Dhaka North City Corporation Mayor Atiqul Islam accompanied the team. DNCC Executive Magistrate Tajwar Akram Sakapi Ibne Sazzad said the outlet was heavily crowded. Children were being allowed to enter without masks.
Mobile courts in the capital also conducted raids in Mouchak and Bailey Road areas yesterday to ensure compliance of the health rules.
A total of 23 people were fined Tk 8,500 at two shopping centres for not wearing masks.
Although food courts in the malls were asked not to allow people to sit and eat, the shops in the Bashundhara shopping mall were seen calling customers to do so, dodging law enforcers.
Whenever they sensed any trouble, they put their shutters down.
During iftar, many were seen sitting in groups on the floors of the malls and taking their meals.
During the last one month, the government has relaxed many of the Covid-19 restrictions. It reopened shopping malls ahead of Eid and thousands of shoppers are thronging them every day, ignoring health safety rules.
It has alarmed health experts.
The experts said the Covid situation in Bangladesh could worsen due to the increased public movement centring the Eid. They warned that the situation can turn dangerous if a new variant found in India made its way here.