Worried that the Covid situation in Bangladesh could worsen with the Indian variant entering and the upcoming Eid travel rush, the government is contemplating stricter measures.
Extension of the ongoing shutdown of public and private offices until Eid; embargo on leaving work stations during the holidays; garment workers going on leave in phases; closing shops and malls after Eid are among the steps, said sources.
The authority would also beef up vigilance on the border to stop possible infiltration, trespassing, and illegal entry.
Although the government is likely to allow public transport to operate after May 5, it might suspend it a week after the holidays.
It might go for more drastic measures if the situation in Kolkata becomes something like that of New Delhi.
The Daily Star came to know about these possible steps after talking to several government officials concerned, including those in the Cabinet Division.
A meeting is likely to be held on Sunday to finalise these measures and a circular would be issued following a nod from the prime minister, the sources said.
Restrictions were imposed on the movement of people and public transport to contain the second wave of Covid-19 on April 5. The restrictions have been extended until May 5 in phases.
INDIA A MAJOR CONCERN
India is going through a devastating second wave of Covid-19. Hospitals in many states have been overwhelmed with patients amid a nationwide shortage of oxygen.
India's daily Covid cases hit a new high yesterday with 3.79 lakh fresh infections and 3,645 deaths in 24 hours.
West Bengal, which shares a 2,216km border with Bangladesh, saw a 192-percent rise in infection rate in two weeks during which the overall rise of infection rate in India was 89 percent.
Assembly elections in five states, including West Bengal, and the Kumbha Mela, in which around 50 lakh Hindu devotees took part in Uttarakhand, are mainly blamed for the sharp rise in Covid cases.
Considering the grave situation in India, the government closed its border with India from April 26. Only freight and stranded Bangladeshis are being allowed in.
In the last three days, at least 510 Bangladeshis have been allowed to return through Benapole. Of them, three were found Covid-19 positive, reports our Benapole correspondent.
These people had gone to India for treatment and had less than 15 days of valid visas. They would have to be in 14-day institutional quarantine.
However, a good number of people regularly cross the border illegally and this is a major concern.
At least 2,638 people were detained by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in 2019 while they were entering Bangladesh illegally, BBC reported in December 2020 citing BSF's statistics. The number was 2,971 in 2018.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, sources tell The Daily Star. Many evade law enforcers' eyes.
Indian truckers and their helpers enter Bangladesh often posing serious risk of spreading the Indian variant of Covid-19.
Prof Rashid-E-Mahbub, former president of the Bangladesh Medical Association, said, "Indian variant will come to Bangladesh ultimately."
The government should take steps to stop it from entering Bangladesh and prepare to stop the spread of the Indian variant, he said.
Infectious disease specialist Prof Ridwanur Rahman said the government should take three steps, keeping in mind that the Indian variant is likely to entre Bangladesh or has already entered Bangladesh.
The steps are: get more people vaccinated, increase the oxygen supply capacity, and increase the number of antigen tests.
The National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 also expressed concern that the country might be in a crisis once the Indian variant enters. The authority should strengthen vigilance, it said in a press release on Wednesday.
Prof ABM Abdulla, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's personal doctor, said there is apprehension that the Indian variant might enter Bangladesh.
"The passenger travel ban [from India to Bangladesh] must be enforced strictly," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
A cabinet division official said the home ministry has already been directed to beef up surveillance by Border Guard Bangladesh so that no one can enter Bangladesh illegally.
The Indian variant B1.617 is more transmissible than earlier strains of the virus.
A study published in Cell journal on April 20, said that the variant has a mutation that increases its potency to infect human cells. In laboratory settings, the variant proved to be 20 percent more transmissible, said the study.
The WHO said the B.1.617 variant had as of Tuesday been detected in over 1,200 sequences uploaded to the GISAID open-access database "from at least 17 countries".
Eid will be celebrated in mid-May and the government is likely to allow public transport after the current spell of restrictions ends on May 5.
People in large numbers are more than likely to head home outside the capital to celebrate Eid. Around 80 lakh to 1.2 crore people leave Dhaka, Narayanganj, and Gazipur before Eid during normal times, passengers welfare organisations estimated.
Thousands of people left Dhaka defying government directives to spend Eid at their homes twice last year. This was blamed by experts as a reason for quick spread of the virus across the country.
To ease the rush, the government is likely to extend the closure of public and private offices until Eid since there is the likelihood of being only three working days between May 6 and the Eid holidays, a cabinet division official said.
The authorities will issue an embargo on government officials leaving their work stations.
The government yesterday instructed garments factory owners to allow holidays of their workers according to the zones they are in so that there is no crisis of transport and physical distancing while travelling could be maintained.
Begum Monnujan Sufian, state minister for labour and employment, gave the instruction at a tripartite meeting of union leaders, government high-ups and factory owners at Srama Bhaban.
Prof Abdulla said people should celebrate Eid at where they are now while Prof Rashid said the authorities should prevent the mad dash home usually seen ahead of Eids.