Concerned over the steep rise in coronavirus cases in India, the government mulls imposing more Covid-19 restrictions in Bangladesh in the coming days.
The issue dominated an inter-ministerial meeting, chaired by Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam, yesterday, a day after the government decided to suspend passengers' travel from India through land borders to stem the spread of mutant variants of Covid-19 from the neighbouring country.
Considering the global situation and following the advice of public health experts, the government yesterday also decided to extend the ongoing restrictions on "overall activities and people's movement" for one more week -- from April 29 to May 5 -- to fight the second wave of the Covid-19.
"We are closely watching the situation in India, especially in Kolkata. We may have to impose stricter restrictions if the situation in West Bengal worsens like in Delhi," an official, who was present at the virtual meeting yesterday, told The Daily Star.
India has been witnessing about 3.5 lakh infections and more than 2,700 deaths every day over the past week amid oxygen shortage. Hospitals in Delhi and Mumbai are failing to accommodate patients.
The situation in West Bengal is also worsening. Laboratories in Kolkata and surrounding areas have been reporting positivity rate of 45-55 percent. On April 1, the total cases in West Bengal was 1,274, which went up to 14,281 on April 24.
Sources in yesterday's meeting said the Bangladesh government was considering to allow operations of buses and trains, suspended since April 5, from April 29. However, the decision remains halted for now.
"This is because if the buses are allowed, people from the districts bordering with India will travel to Dhaka. This may result in the rise in infections, including those caused by mutant virus," an official said.
The meeting also discussed allowing bus operations before the upcoming Eid and then again suspending them again a week after the festival, said meeting insiders.
"We have allowed opening of shops and malls ahead of Eid because the businesses have been facing losses for long. But after the Eid, shops may be closed again," said meeting sources.
The inter-ministerial meeting was attended by top officials of the ministries of home, health, public administration, and Prime Minister's Office. The meeting also discussed the re-opening of the public and private offices.
"Our strategy of lockdown will depend on the situation in Kolkata," an official, who participated in the meeting, said.
TRAFFIC, PEOPLE MOBILITY RISE
Keeping the Eid in mind, the government has decided that shops can stay open from 10:00am to 8:00pm every day.
Despite the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, traffic movement on streets has increased significantly lately, although operations of buses, train and launches have remained suspended.
Visiting some major shopping malls and markets in Dhaka -- New Market, Chandni Chawk, Gausia, Noor Mansion, Chandrima Super Market, 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 safety rules appeared as a big challenge due to the heavy rush of customers. Only a few of the health safety guidelines were being followed.
Many shop owners and their customers were seen with their masks down. At 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.
Heavy traffic congestion was seen in front of New Market and Bashundhara City Mall.
In another development, the government has urged Muslims to offer Eid-ul-Fitr prayers at mosques instead of at Eidgahs as part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus, according to a UNB report.