Hospitals were never this far
With the capital in shutdown, people who need to urgently reach hospitals have been left in the lurch mainly due to a dearth of vehicles.
The problem was exacerbated by the fact that many hospitals are still refusing to take patients with fevers and colds citing their lack of preparations for dealing with potential coronavirus vectors.
Add to this mix, this is the flu and dengue season, and people having fever is quite common now.
On Friday, Gulam Muktadir's 16-month-old son was suffering from fever with the temperature reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit. He had to carry the sick child and walk from his home in South Kafrul to a hospital in Mirpur-10 via Dhaka cantonment area.
That is a distance of over five kilometres, and making it on foot would take one over an hour. Count in more if the person is carrying a child who is too weak to walk.
"We live in an area next to the cantonment, where you won't find any rickshaw now. When my son's temperature was soaring, we contacted all the local hospitals, but they told us straight that they won't allow anybody with fever to enter," said Muktadir, a businessman.
After many frantic phone calls, he finally found the hospital at Mirpur-10 willing to treat his son. Unable to find any vehicle, he began to walk, carrying the child. "I could not bear my son's pain. I had to do it," he said.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, he said he was going back to the hospital to collect test results and that doctors were suspecting typhoid or dengue -- nothing related to coronavirus.
Recently, the government has announced a 10-day countrywide shutdown as part of its efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus. Since the shutdown began on Thursday, public transport services have remained suspended. Ridesharing services have also been forbidden. Besides, there are reports that rickshaw pullers and CNG-drivers found without passengers were harassed by law enforcers for being out on the roads.
On Thursday, 19-year-old CNG driver Hridoy dropped off passengers in Ashulia on the outskirts of the city. As he was coming back towards Karwan Bazar, he was stopped by some policemen.
"A cop said CNG-run auto-rickshaws are not allowed on the streets amid the shutdown and asked me what was I doing there," he told this daily.
Hridoy then told the law enforcers that a woman, her 5-year-old child and a teenage boy inside the vehicle had begged him to give them a ride. They badly need to reach their destination. "But the policemen started to harass me."
At one point, the cops got distracted by another approaching CNG-run. Taking the opportunity, a panicked Hridoy tried to leave the place with his auto-rickshaw.
"But that was a mistake. They immediately surrounded my CNG with their motorbikes, caught me and put handcuffs on me. I had to bribe my way out of the situation."
Hridoy said many other drivers like him have stopped going out fearing police harassment.
On Friday, a reporter of this newspaper was trying to take his father to a private hospital for chemotherapy-related check-ups.
"We thought we would use Uber, but the government has stopped ridesharing apps along with all motorised transport services very suddenly.
"We also could not find any CNG-run auto-rickshaw or taxi. Car renting agencies are also closed. After the coronavirus outbreak, ambulances have doubled and even tripled their fares and are also extremely occupied," said the reporter, Md Shahnawaz Khan Chandan.
"I cannot quite understand how could they ban all forms of transport services in a situation when there might be so many patients and they might need to be taken to the hospital for emergency treatment."
Even as Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Md Shafiqul Islam has announced a revised guideline detailing on vehicular movement in a city in shutdown, there is no mention of regularising methods of transport.
Meanwhile, hospitals like Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College and Hospital and Dhaka Medical College Hospital have set up dedicated flu corners to treat patients with seasonal influenza, which is quite common during this season.