(Watch) Homebound rush raises fear of coronavirus spread | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 25, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:18 PM, March 25, 2020

Homebound rush raises fear of coronavirus spread

Experts say govt shouldn’t have allowed people to leave capital

The government has repeatedly been asking people to stay home in efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. It also announced closure of all public and private offices to make people stay indoors. 

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But soon after the announcement, people in droves started leaving the capital for their village homes.

Yesterday too, hundreds of city dwellers boarded buses, trains and launches to head back home, oblivious to the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

Experts fear the government decision to close down offices, without adequate measures to make people stay indoors, could further help spread the virus throughout the country.

They also said it appears that the government steps to tackle the situation were not carefully planned, and there has been a lack of coordination among different government bodies and experts.

On Monday, the government declared the shutdown effective from March 26 to April 4 to contain the spread of the virus. The announcement came following three deaths from Covid-19 and a steady rise in the number of positive cases.

Also, people were advised not to go out of home unless they need to collect food, medicine or receive treatment.

But what happened after the announcement was very shocking: people in hordes left for their village homes. The rush of homebound people forced Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation yesterday to carry only passengers, instead of vehicles, on ferries on Shimulia-Kathalbari route in the Padma river.

World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to advise the travellers who are sick to delay or avoid journey to affected areas. It has also asked all travellers to wash hands frequently, cover mouth and nose with tissue papers while coughing and sneezing, and stay one metre away from sick persons.

But such advisories are hardly followed in this country.

Experts said the reason for such an exodus was that the government, before deciding on the closure, didn't send out any clear-cut message to people about staying indoors and social distancing.

There was a gap in the government's message; it advised people to stay indoors but didn't shut down public transport services, they said.

Prof Nazrul Islam, virologist and former vice chancellor at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, termed the decision "self-destructive".

"The objective with which the government closed offices was not successful. The viruscould spread across the country, as so many people left for homes crammed in buses, trains and launches," he told The Daily Star.

The government made a mistake by closing offices without proper planning just like it had done earlier this month by allowing Italy returnees to go on home quarantine.

"We are seeing a rise in positive cases as the returnees from Italy were allowed to go home," he said, adding that the situation would have been different if the returnees were kept in institutional quarantine.

"The government thought it would announce a decision and things would start working automatically. But it's not that simple," Prof Nazrul said.

Pointing out a lack of coordination on the part of the government, he said the 31-member national advisory committee on Covid-19 doesn't have adequate number of specialists and healthcare professionals.

"It is not clear who is doing what."

Prof Mushtuq Hossain, consultant at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said, "Now the virus may spread everywhere."

He, however, said if people do not comply with health advisories, it is difficult to ensure social distancing.

The authorities could not sense that such a situation would arise after the holiday announcement, added Mushtuq.

Bangladesh Jatri Kalyan Samity, a passenger welfare platform, termed the government decision "suicidal".

"The decision to announce holidays, right after closing schools and colleges, without suspending public transport is suicidal and shows a lack of farsightedness," Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury, secretary general of the platform, said in a press release.

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