• Tuesday, Jun 02, 2020
  • Last Update : 02:56 am

Coronavirus: Rohingya camps at risk as tests slow down

  • Published at 01:03 pm April 17th, 2020
Rohingya camp
File photo of a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Only 12 Rohingya people tested so far 

The Rohingya community, living in 34 camps in Cox's Bazar, is now under a big threat as the fast spreading Covid-19, a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus, has engulfed the country with community transmission as well. 

The government on Thursday declared that the entire Bangladesh is now at risk of coronavirus infection.

Amid such declaration, overcrowded camps of the Myanmar nationals have been exposed to the risk of Covid-19 spread as many Rohingyas, who fled the camps earlier, came back to the shelters from different districts of Bangladesh, even from abroad.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency, in a report said: "The returnees are a big concern as refugees find themselves in camps or settlements that are overcrowded. The health service areas are already under pressure here. Overcrowded conditions are posing a greater risk for spreading any communicable disease, including Covid-19."

Although the local administration put the Rohingyas, who returned to the camps, on quarantine, the authorities are reluctant to conduct medical tests, slowing down the process to determine whether the individuals contracted Covid-19 or not, until they find them with coronavirus symptoms.

According to the Civil Surgeon office in Cox's Bazar, samples were collected only from 12 individuals out of over 1.1 million Rohingyas since Bangladesh reported its first three coronavirus cases on March 8. 

Even, the authorities have not collected any samples for a couple of days.  

"We have collected 12 samples from all over the Rohingya camps and all those tested negative," Civil Surgeon Dr Mahbubur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday. 

"We did not collect samples for the last couple of days as Covid-19 symptoms was not reported in any of the individuals," he said. 

Risk increasing 

The return of Rohingyas to their camps from different parts of the country and abroad has increased the risk of spreading the virus in the camps which might turn a catastrophe there.

Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered to restrict the entry of outsiders in the camps as part of an effort to prevent the coronavirus outbreak. The district administration already placed the entire district on lockdown.

However, law enforcers have captured 30 Rohingyas who returned from Australia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and neighbouring India. 

The returnees, who left the camps one year ago or more than that, were caught with Bangladeshi passports, said Shamsuzzaman Nayan, assistant commissioner of the office of Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC). 

"All the 30 Rohingya returnees from different countries have been kept in a quarantine center now," he said.

With another development, a total of 396 Rohingyas, who arrived in Teknaf on Thursday after failing to go to Malaysia illegally, have been sent to institutional quarantine.

Bangladesh Coast Guard handed them over to the UNHCR that decided to keep them in institutional quarantine centres in Teknaf and Ghumdhum for 14 days.

Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner Kamal Hossain said: "We have already imposed lockdown on the entire district including all the Rohingya camps under Ukhiya and Teknaf upazilas since April 8. 

"Entry and exit from the district is totally prohibited now," he added. 

But before the lockdown many Rohingyas, who were staying outside the district and illegally engaged in daily basis jobs, came back to the camps for survival as the government announced general holiday turned them jobless.

Meanwhile, a RRRC official said if there is a major outbreak of Covid-19 in the camps, there could be a military presence to take control.

What are the hospital facilities?

The overcrowded Rohingya camps have scarcity of available land for expanding treatment and isolation facilities, despite non-governmental organizations (NGOs) jointly working with the government to overcome the situation.

The UN refugee agency said coronavirus suspects will be kept in a temporary isolated area until they are safely transported to a designated isolation unit.

Around 300 designated isolation units have already been selected so far, and mapping of isolation facilities, ambulances, and 24/7 health facilities is ongoing as well.

Furthermore, UNHCR said planning is underway to prepare 1,700 beds for isolation and treatment across Cox's Bazar, with 1,000 dedicated beds for the Rohingya people so far. 

Setting up of 1,000 additional beds has been planned at several sites with land availability and upon operational capacity.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) are taking the lead in setting up facilities on three of the identified sites. The UN refugee agency has begun construction work on one site while other partners will begin soon.

Civil Surgeon Mahbubur Rahman said: "We are allowing the quarantine and treatment centres close to the camps to control the spread of coronavirus." 

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the intensive care unit (ICU) in the Cox's Bazar General Hospital is now being upgraded to a capacity of 10 beds.

Social distancing followed by Rohingyas an example 

Since the lockdown, the scenario has been changed as Rohingya people inside the camps are following the rules as much as possible. 

While wearing masks and gloves, they collect their necessary food and hygiene kits from distribution centres following social distancing. 

A massive awareness campaign is also going on across the camps requesting Rohingyas to stay at home, and maintain hygiene and social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus outbreak.  

RRRC Assistant Commissioner Shamsuzzaman Nayan said: "Awareness building campaign is going on since the beginning of the pandemic." 

Md Edris Ali, a Majhi (community leader) of Camp 7 at Kutupalong under Ukhiya upazila, said: "Initially we had no idea about the coronavirus. Health workers and community volunteers informed us over the disease to make us aware of it.

"Now we are requesting other community members to become aware of the disease and follow social distancing," he added.

Jalal Ahmed, chairman of Kutupalong registered camp, said: "Different agencies including NGOs have installed hand washing points inside the camps."

Minara Begum, a Rohingya woman at Camp 2 in Kutupalong, said: "We do not move outside unnecessarily and keep our children at home."  

NGO workers, who visit the camps everyday, confirmed that unnecessary movement has decreased in camps. 

"But, still there are gatherings in the kitchen market which should be restricted," said a NGO worker.

Currently, interpersonal communication sessions including two to three people in a group is also being done by the NGOs, while wearing masks and following social distancing. 

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