Curbs to stay during Eid
With the nationwide lockdown extended till July 14, the government is unlikely to allow cattle markets in the capital ahead of the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha if the Covid situation doesn't improve.
However, if the strict lockdown helps flatten the rising curve of infections and deaths by that time, a handful of cattle markets could be allowed to run on a limited scale, maintaining strict compliance of the health safety rules, said highly placed sources in the government.
They said the authorities will encourage people to buy sacrificial animals online to prevent buyers and traders from going to cattle markets during this critical phase of the pandemic.
All-out measures will be taken to stop people from travelling from one district to another before the Eid when people in their thousands leave the cities for village homes, they mentioned.
Meanwhile, the government extended the lockdown for a week to curb the spread of Covid that has already claimed more than 15,000 lives in the country.
In a gazette notification yesterday, the Cabinet Division said all the ongoing restrictions have been extended, considering the current state of the pandemic.
Contacted, State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain said, "We will do everything to reap the benefits from the ongoing lockdown. The next few weeks will be important for us.
"We have taken lessons from the previous Eid and are proceeding accordingly," he told The Daily Star.
The extension came following advice from the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19 and the grim records that the country saw in both Covid deaths and new infections.
As many as 164 people died in 24 hours till 8:00am yesterday, by far the highest number of deaths from Covid in a single day since it hit the country last year.
The Covid death toll hit 15,229 and the death rate was 1.59 percent.
At least 9,964 new infections -- the highest in a day -- were reported in the 24 hours, taking the total number to 954,881, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
The daily Covid positivity rate was 29.30 percent, meaning more than one in every four samples tested positive for the virus.
Last week, the number of deaths rose by 46.6 percent and new cases by 43.6 percent compared to those in the previous week, according to DGHS data.
Cattle markets have become a big headache for the government as those in the capital draw huge crowds of buyers and sellers before the Eid-ul-Azha every year.
"We will encourage people to buy cattle online. If the situation improves, we will allow some cattle markets on condition that the health safety guidelines are strictly followed," Farhad said.
Separate websites for buying and selling livestock have been created for each district and campaigns will be run to publicise those, he added.
Expressing similar view, Dr Mohammad Shahidhullah, chief of the NTAC, said, "We must encourage online cattle markets."
Even if the government allows cattle markets before the Eid, their number should be very low and the health safety rules must be strictly followed there, he noted.
He further said that ideally, the lockdown should be continued for three weeks at a stretch.
"It is tough ahead of the Eid. What can be done is strict enforcement of the health safety rules in all cases…. violators of the rules have to be penalised."
Sources said the ongoing restrictions will be lifted in phases if the spread of Covid slows down.
In the first phase, offices will be allowed to operate before the Eid with limited number of staffers. Private vehicles will also be allowed to run. And there will be no time limit for keeping open stores that sell essentials.
However, public transport and shopping malls will remain closed to prevent people from crowding those to do Eid shopping.
Before all three Eids since the Covid outbreak in the country, there was a huge rush of homegoers making arduous journeys to their village homes without maintaining the health safety guidelines.
During the Eid-ul-Fitr two months ago, the government kept inter-district public transport closed to check public movement, but that could not stop people from going home, using private vehicles.
Shopping malls were allowed to operate under certain conditions, but the health safety protocols were ignored in most of the malls and markets as those failed to control crowd.
On July 3, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her frustration with the homegoers during the Eid-ul-Fitr.
The PM said she had urged people repeatedly before the Eid not to move from their respective areas, but to no avail.
"If all had listened to our call, this spread [of the virus] might not have occurred," she said in her concluding speech of the budget session.