Bangladesh to decide fate of restrictions Tuesday as COVID cases soar in lockdown

Mehedi Hassan Niaz

Published : August 3, 2021 , 11:27 am

With deadly coronavirus infections rising at a record pace amid a “strict” lockdown, the government will sit on Tuesday to decide whether to extend the restrictions beyond Aug 5.

Officials will hold a multi-ministry meeting virtually at 11am, with Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque at the chair. A number of ministers, state ministers, secretaries and agency heads will attend the meeting.

“I can’t say it now,” replied Mozammel when asked on Monday whether they will press ahead with the curbs. “We’ll talk whether the lockdown can be extended. We’ll review the arguments.”

The government enforced the lockdown on Jul 1 and lifted it for nine days for Eid-ul-Azha. In the strictest lockdown imposed after Eid, factories were also closed unlike previous rounds of lockdown.

After the lockdown was relaxed for two days for the transportation of workers to factories from their home villages and towns following the reopening, the curbs appeared to have worn out.

Ferries in Munshiganj’s Shimulia and Madaripur’s Banglabazar are teeming with large crowds on Saturday, July 31, 2021, despite ongoing lockdown restrictions, after the government announced the reopening of factories from Sunday. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Ferries in Munshiganj’s Shimulia and Madaripur’s Banglabazar are teeming with large crowds on Saturday, July 31, 2021, despite ongoing lockdown restrictions, after the government announced the reopening of factories from Sunday. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi
Bangladesh registered 246 new deaths from COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8am on Monday, taking the total toll to 21,162. The caseload surged to 1,280,317 after 15,989 people tested positive for the disease, according to the latest government data.

As many as 53,462 samples were tested across the country, for a positivity rate of 29.91 percent.

The health ministry and experts want the strict restrictions in place and followed properly until the new infection rate comes down to a one-digit number. The Directorate General of Health Services has recommended extending the curbs by 10 days.

Mozammel said he did not see the DGHS recommendation. “We’ll see it tomorrow (Tuesday). I hope a decision will be taken in tomorrow’s meeting.”

WHAT EXPERTS SAY

Dr Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19, expressed his frustration over the current state of the lockdown.

“Is it lockdown? Can there be so much traffic jam in a lockdown?” he asked, questioning the unplanned reopening of the factories that forced the workers to travel hundreds of kilometres in overcrowded ferries, small passenger carriers, and then in buses and launches.

Since the government needs to think about livelihoods as well, it may better emphasise testing of the suspected patients instead of lockdown, and isolating the positive cases and people who came into close contact with them, according to him.

Workers enter a garment factory at Dhaka’s Mirpur-11 on Sunday, Aug 1, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

Workers enter a garment factory at Dhaka’s Mirpur-11 on Sunday, Aug 1, 2021. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove
It will have to go door-to-door even at the Upazila level if necessary to ensure testing and isolation, said the former vice-chancellor of Bangabanhdhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.

“And mask rules must be ensured at the fullest.”

Public health expert Dr Mushtuq Husain, however, said the restrictions must continue until the infection rate drops below 5 percent with the number of deaths in daily counts below 50.

He said the government should take up programmes to help the people follow the strict restrictions instead of lifting those. “Lifting the lockdown only because people cannot maintain it will be like reversing the course.”

If the people do not get the support to follow the restrictions, there will be long-term damage, he warned.

Musthuq, who advises the government’s disease control agency IEDCR on COVID-19, believes extending the curbs by two weeks will bring the desired result.

And besides vaccinating the citizens, he said, following up on the new cases to ensure isolation and treatment is also necessary.