In stillness of shutdown | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 27, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:02 PM, March 27, 2020

In stillness of shutdown

Streets deserted, shops shuttered, families stay indoors on first of the 10 days

It was truly unprecedented for the Dhaka dwellers.

On the first day a 10-day shutdown, imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus, they woke up yesterday to a city that they never had seen before.

An eerie silence gripped the entire capital usually overflowing with chaos and noise. Gone were the wall-to-wall traffic, the overcrowded alleyways, the bustling footpaths, the roadside teastalls, and the crowded mosques, which are key features of the city with a population of nearly 20 million.

Almost all the city dwellers stayed indoors while only a handful of them went out but for emergency purposes.

Except a few kitchen markets and groceries, all markets, malls, commercial establishments, factories and most restaurants stayed closed.

Public transport remained off the roads which looked deserted. The cacophony of honking vehicles was missing. On intervals, rickshaw bells, however, pierced through the silence.

The bustling bus terminals and train stations were empty as well.

All construction activities also remained halted.

The eeriness intensified in the evening and reached its peak at night.

The situation was almost similar elsewhere in the country. The highways were empty. Police closed shops and dispersed all sorts of gatherings at local markets.

"We've never seen the capital so still. It's scary. It looks like a ghost town. We don't know how this will stay so," said Moazzem Hossain, a man who came out to buy eggs, told The Daily Star in the capital's West Razabazar area around 10:30am.

Police and army personnel patrolled the city streets to ensure people stay indoors and maintain social distancing, as part of measures to tackle the coronavirus situation. 

If they found anyone outside, they asked them why did they come out of their home.

Some incidents of police excesses, however, were reported at a few places. Some law enforcers beat up people with sticks to force them go home.

Novel coronavirus continues to take its toll on the world with more than 4,81,300 cases of infection and 21,873 deaths as of yesterday.

Bangladesh has so far reported 44 cases and five deaths. But many fear things may deteriorate quickly mainly due to densely populated localities, a lack of hygiene and a poor healthcare system.

Public health experts said the reportedly low number of detected cases was a result of limited testing facilities.

The IEDCR, the lone authority to do the tests, have carried out 924 tests so far, partly due to a shortage of kits. It, however, has started decentralising the testing facilities.

In its fight against the Covid-19 outbreak, the government recently announced a 10-day shutdown and suspended all passenger transport services. It also closed down public and private offices.

Schools, colleges and other educational institutions are also closed till April 9.

The government asked the people to stay indoors and maintain social distancing. People were requested to go out only for emergency purposes, like buying groceries or medicines.

Hospitals, drugstores and other emergency services, meanwhile, remain open. Ambulances, vehicles carrying food and newspaper and cargo vessels are also out of the restrictions.

But before the shutdown came into effect, a huge number of people left the city for their village homes, ignoring the government advice to stay home and exposing themselves to the risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.

At different signals and roads of the city yesterday, vehicles, including police cars and ambulances, were seen moving very cautiously.

Police put up barricades on many points to check whether more than two people were travelling in one vehicle.

Police personnel and Dhaka city corporation staffers were seen asking people to go home and not to move around in groups.

The busiest areas of the city like Farmgate, Karwan Bazar, Shahbagh, Motijheel, Gulshan, Banani, Mohakhali, and Mirpur were eerily silent.

"The reason for this stillness of the city is that people in their thousands have left it while the others preferred to stay indoors," said Yasin Ali, who went to Karwan Bazar kitchen market to buy groceries. He was wearing gloves and face mask to protect himself from coronavirus infection.

Many also woke up to the fact that they were left with no job during the 10-day shutdown. A large number of people in the city live from hand to mouth, depending on their daily income for survival.

Solaiman Mia, a vendor, goes from door to door selling different food items in Mohammadpur area. His income has dipped drastically in the last few days. "Feeding my family has become difficult," he said.

Forty-five-year-old rickshaw puller Sumon Mia, 45, lives in a small room he shares with four others at Boubazar in Farmgate area. He said he was overcome with anxiety over his earning in the next few days.

"I have a family back home. They depend on my income. I don't know how will I send money to them," said a worried Sumon Mia.

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