'We don’t want to create any panic. We have asked all Bangladeshis to remain careful'
The government has kept aircraft ready to bring back about 500 Bangladeshi students living in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said yesterday.
However, he added that the Bangladeshis in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, would not be able to return home before the end of the minimum two-week quarantine period.
Talking to reporters after the inaugural session of a workshop on Universal Periodic Review at a Dhaka hotel, he said that at the moment, the government would not issue any travel alert for China in order to avoid causing panic among people.
“We don’t want to create any panic. We have asked all Bangladeshis to remain careful,” Momen added.
Chinese citizens already in Bangladesh and people who will be coming from China and South Korea would be monitored by the authorities, he said.
He said that no screening facilities had been put in place at airports in Bangladesh, but information from people coming from coronavirus-affected areas would be collected upon their arrival.
“We are fully ready. This issue has been discussed in the cabinet meeting. We have taken more than one measure,” the minister said.
“The prime minister has directed that they [Bangladeshis] be brought back home. We have kept planes ready for that,” he said, but added that the authorities had talked to the Chinese authorities, who had said all foreigners, including Bangladeshis, would be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days and would not be permitted to leave Wuhan before that.
“India applied, so did the United States of America. The reply was the same. Wuhan has been totally shut down. No one is allowed outside,” he said.
The minister also said that the Bangladeshis had been taken to the market for shopping and then were returned home by the local authorities in Wuhan.
“But, we are ready. Besides, we have opened a webpage through which we are continuously discussing the issue with about 200 students currently in Wuhan. And we are aware about what more can be done,” he said.
“We have taken adequate measures inside the country as well. If anybody comes from those countries, we will not confine them, but will take their addresses and other details,” he added.
No need to panic
The foreign minister said people had become concerned since nothing much was known about coronavirus, which has already claimed more than 100 lives and there is no known vaccination against it.
When asked how realistic it was to fly the Bangladeshis back home from China, he avoided a direct reply.
“We don’t know much about this virus. You media have hyped it up, saying this is something to be panicky about. We don’t say panic. We have not yet imposed any restrictions on departures and arrivals.
“We have only said that we will be cautious and take the names and addresses of those who will come from those areas, so that we can know the reasons in case they get ill,” Momen said.
“We have also prepared a portion of a hospital in case anyone needs to be put in quarantine,” he added.
To a question regarding a fairly good number of Chinese people living in Bangladesh, some of whom had been home recently, the minister said: “We will monitor them. We will keep them under observation. We will take their addresses at the airports so that in case of illness we can understand why this has happened.”
To another question, he replied: “There is no problem if they [the Chinese people] mix with the locals, provided they are not infected with the virus.”
He said screening facilities required to detect coronavirus was yet to be put in place at the country’s airports. “But we have put in place a mechanism at the airports to get information.”