Residents in the capital yesterday worked themselves into a frenzy to stock up on food supplies and household essentials ahead of the weeklong restrictions on transport and public movement from today.
Kitchen markets and superstores in the city were crowded with shoppers while an overwhelming number of people, especially from the low-income group, thronged the inter-district bus terminals for going to their village homes, causing severe traffic congestions.
The restrictions, issued by the government yesterday to check the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, forced a huge number of people to come out of homes to get their urgent jobs done.
Health safety guidelines were ignored in many cases as people jostled at markets, bus stations and launch terminals.
The reasons for such a rush were not only the closure of shops for a week but also the apprehension that the one-week restrictions could be extended like that of the shutdown announced on March 26 last year.
"I went to Karwan Bazar fish market around 7:30am and found almost all types of fish were sold out…," Shrabon Roy, a resident of Purba Rajabazar, told this newspaper yesterday evening.
He alleged that the traders cashed in on the situation and raised the prices of some commodities like onion, garlic and ginger.
All these happened as the country recorded 7,087 new infections yesterday with a positivity rate of 23.07 percent. Another 53 people died from the virus, taking the death toll to 9,266.
The Cabinet Division yesterday issued an 11-point directive to be followed from 6:00am today to 12:00am on April 11 to contain the spread of the virus in the country. Punitive actions would be taken against the violators of the directives, read the circular.
The government had taken similar steps last year. It shut down public and private offices and suspended public transport services from March 26 to May 30. The authorities later imposed restrictions on specific areas with high infection rates.
But the shutdown was not properly implemented, especially during the Eid festivals when tens of thousands of people left the capital for their village homes. Besides, garment factories were allowed to operate midway. Labourers and low-income people were forced to step out of homes to earn a living.
As per the new directives, all public transport services -- road, waterway and railway -- as well as domestic flights will remain suspended. CNG-run auto-rickshaws and ride-sharing vehicles will also fall under the restrictions.
Vehicles used for carrying goods and emergency services will remain out of the purview of the restrictions. People returning from or going abroad will not fall under the restrictions.
No one can go out from 6:00pm to 6:00am except for emergencies, including medicine, daily essentials, treatment and burial or cremations. Shops and malls will stay closed. Restaurants can sell food online and offer takeaway services.
The restrictions will not be applicable to offices, employees and transports involved in maintaining law and order and emergency services, relief distribution, health services, and electricity, water and gas supply, fire service, port activities, and telephone and internet services.
Banks will operate from 10:00am to 12:30pm. Public, private and autonomous offices can facilitate commute of their employees to workplaces, using their own transport on a limited scale. Industrial units and factories can do the same for their workers. Construction works will go on.
Ekushey Boi Mela will also continue from noon to 5:00pm every day.
People started leaving the capital from Saturday, hours after Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader disclosed the government decision to impose "lockdown" from today. More and more passengers thronged bus and launch terminals in the capital from that day.
But people crowded markets and terminals in their thousands yesterday.
Three of our correspondents visited 10 to 12 markets in the city and found huge rush of buyers in all of those.
Palash Ahmed, an employee of a private organisation, who went to a superstore in Mohammadpur yesterday morning, found prices of vegetables and fish had gone up.
"A lemon is now sold for Tk 26! Prices of fish have also increased," said Palash.
As the restrictions were about to take effect, many like him thronged superstores to stock up on groceries.
At various bus stations, people in large numbers were seen waiting to board long-haul buses but many of them failed to board any.
A number of passengers also complained of overcharging.
Two day labourers -- Mahbub Alam and Abdus Salam -- who work at a power plant in Cumilla's Daudkandi area were waiting for a bus at Gabtoli bus terminal to go to Naogaon.
They were forced to buy four tickets -- two for each.
"We had to pay Tk 500 for each ticket. Usually, we buy it for Tk 400-450," Mahbub said.
Seeking anonymity, a transport manager of SI Travels said, "We are asked not to carry passengers more than half of bus capacity. Please don't make it an issue now. We have to suspend operation tomorrow."
Suvenker Ghosh Rakesh, managing director of Shyamoli NR Travels, said they are seeing a huge rush of home-bound passengers from Saturday.
"We are seeing the same trend that we witnessed before the lockdown was imposed ahead of the Eid festivals last year," he told this newspaper yesterday.
"We have to keep 50 percent seats vacant as per the government directive. On the other hand, we are facing a huge rush of passengers… We are now trying our best to maintain the health safety guidelines," said Suvenker, also joint secretary of Bangladesh Bus Truck Owners Association.
Our correspondents in Manikganj and Tangail reported higher-than-usual traffic at Paturia-Daulatdia ferry terminal and on Dhaka-Tangail Highway.
In the capital, Kamalapur Railway Station saw a huge rush of home-bound passengers, many of whom flouted the health safety guidelines. Some commuter trains carried passengers more than 50 percent of capacity in violation of the government directive.
Asked, station Manager Masud Sarwar said, "We had to carry passengers more than half the capacity in some trains as many had bought advance tickets."
He further said a huge number of passengers thronged the ticket counters yesterday, and that no one was allowed to enter the platform without tickets.
Badiuzzaman Badal, senior vice-president of Bangladesh Inland Waterways (passenger carriers) Association, said there was a big rush of passengers at Sadarghat launch terminal.
He mentioned that they faced problems in dealing with large crowds of passengers after Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority suspended launch operations due to inclement weather yesterday evening.