The government is likely to extend the ongoing shutdown for at least a week as part of its efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Public health experts are in favour of such a move as the country has entered the crucial fourth week since it reported the first Covid-19 case. The ongoing shutdown will end on April 4.
At first, the government may extend the shutdown for five days till April 9. In that case, offices will reopen on April 12 after weekly holidays on April 10 and 11, according to sources.
The next course of action would be decided considering the overall situation at that time, they added.
"The government is actively considering extending the holidays because we don't want any gathering in such a situation. You will get to know the decision within a day or two," a minister told this newspaper yesterday, seeking anonymity.
A secretary of the government said, "The decision [to extend the shutdown] has not been taken yet. However, it is now under discussion and there is a possibility of extending the holidays."
Replying to a query, the secretary said, "It may be extended up to 10 days."
Sources in the government said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would hold a video conference with the officials of all 64 districts today to ensure better coordination of the ongoing activities to prevent the spread of the virus.
During the video conference, the PM may come up with a directive on the extension of the shutdown.
According to sources, the government will reopen public and private offices in phases so that all those people who left the capital for village homes before the shutdown don't have to rush to the capital at the same time. Educational institutions will reopen in the last phase.
Contacted, Shaikh Yusuf Harun, secretary at the public administration ministry, said they were yet to get any directive in this regard.
"If we get any such directives, we will prepare a proposal and send it to the Prime Minister's Office for approval," he told this newspaper yesterday.
So far five people have died from Covid-19 in the country. The number of infected people now stands at 49 with one tested positive for the virus yesterday, according to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR).
On March 23, the government announced closure of all public and private offices from March 26 to April 4 to contain the spread of the virus.
Hospitals, kitchen markets, drug stores, media outlets and emergency services remained outside the purview of the closure.
The following day, the government decided to suspend all public transport services, inching closer to enforcing a lockdown.
Following the announcements, people in droves left the capital for their village homes, ignoring the government advice to stay at home.
The homebound rush increased the risk of spreading the virus across the country, experts said.
It is very difficult to know how many people left the capital after the government announcement. However, data from transport and mobile phone operations gives a hint about it.
According to mobile phone operators, 1.28 crore subscribers left the capital in three days after the announcement. However, one person may have more than one SIM card while many don't have mobile phones.
Transport operators said they see such rush of people only ahead of the Eid vacation. An estimated 80 lakh holidaymakers leave the capital for their homes by bus, train and launch ahead of the vacation.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
Prominent physician Prof ABM Abdullah said the government should extend the ongoing shutdown for at least five days.
"The extension will allow those who left the capital to complete their 14-day quarantine period," he told this newspaper last night.
"After that, the government should decide on the next course of action, considering the situation at that time."
Prof Md Nazrul Islam, former vice chancellor at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said this is a very crucial week which will end on April 4.
"The government should decide on reopening offices after evaluating the situation at the end of this period," said Nazrul, also a prominent virologist.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, former adviser (Southeast Asia region) of the World Health Organization, said the shutdown should be extended up to two weeks, and it must be enforced "effectively".
"Community transmission is going on. People with coronavirus symptoms should be segregated and tested. Those who will test positive for the virus must be kept in isolation.
"I think the shutdown should be extended for at least two weeks," he added.