Masks mandatory for office goers while buses and trains to carry 50% passengers
Bangladesh is going to allow operations of all offices, businesses and transports to resume from Sunday on a limited scale, at a time when the country is facing its worst bout of the deadly coronavirus.
The limited reopening will remain in force until June 15, according to a gazette notification on May 28.
The government has taken such a decision to resume operations in pursuit of life and livelihood amid the pandemic.
However, public health experts say it is a suicidal move by the government to reopen offices and allow a resumption of public transport at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
As part of the preventive measures against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh, the government on March 23 declared a general holiday from March 26 and later extended the shutdown in phases till May 30.
On May 28, the Cabinet Division issued a gazette notification to the effect that all public, private and autonomous offices could resume functioning on a limited scale from May 31 to June 15, with the proviso that everyone had to follow the 13-point health directives issued by the Heath Services Division.
Similarly, the gazette noted that public transport on roads and waterways as well as trains could operate with limited numbers of passengers from May 31.
However, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the ministries concerned have taken some decisions.
The Ministry of Public Administration decided that wearing masks was mandatory for office goers. Similarly, passengers would not be allowed on public transport vehicles if they did not use masks.
Pregnant women, the elderly and the sick were also asked to refrain from attending office.
The government has also ordered that passengers have to be carried through maintaining social distancing. Bus owners have been directed to carry passengers at 50% of the capacity of the buses.
Bangladesh Railway has decided to sell tickets online.
Apart from these, all transports will be disinfected before each journey. Sanitizers and temperature measuring machines will be available in transports.
However, experts are not convinced that Bangladesh can implement such guidelines, as the government was previously unable to execute any decision strictly.
Maintaining health guidelines in public transports will be difficult
Professor Dr Nazrul Islam, a virologist at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said: “All the countries are resuming transport services when the infection rate of Covid-19 has been going down.
“The Bangladesh government, on the other hand, is reopening mass transport services during the peak of the virus infection.”
He claimed that the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) had recommended resuming the transport system once the infection rate slowed down.
Dr Nazrul Islam, who is a member of the NATC, said: “From previous experience it can be said that it will be difficult to maintain social distancing in public transports.”
He told Dhaka Tribune: “Mass transport is likely to become a new concern for Bangladesh in the coronavirus spreading rapidly.”
Public Health expert Tarek Hossain, former program coordinator at UNICEF, said: “To materialize the government’s initiative passengers should also be aware of conditions.
“Once they see a bus carrying more passengers than permitted, they should call the police on the hotlines."
Similarly, public transport expert Shamsul Haque, professor at the Engineering Department of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said: “We have a shortage of public transport vehicles, especially in Dhaka. Now a bus can carry half of its capacity to maintain social distancing but all public and private offices will be open on the same day.”
“That means demand will be much higher than supply. So people will make a rush for buses. Drivers or conductors will not take responsibility for situations of overcrowding,” he added.
He also said: “If the buses were run under a few companies as in developed countries, it might have been possible to control the crowds. Unfortunately, Bangladesh has a very poor transport system, as there is huge chaos and indiscipline.
Not only the experts but the government as well is anxious about ensuring health guidelines.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on Friday said: “The government has decided to resume offices and transport in pursuit of life and livelihood.
“Transport owners, drivers and workers should be committed to follow the health guidelines and instructions. Otherwise, the situation will be out of control.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Farhad Hossain, state minister of the Ministry of Public Administration, said: “Actually, we do not know how many more days we will have to continue the fight against the Covid-19 virus, as no medicine or vaccine against the virus has been invented yet.
“Therefore, we are going to open all government, semi-government and private offices.”
He also warned that law enforcers would take action against anyone found without masks outside their homes.
He added: “We will also monitor to what degree public transports can follow the health guidelines. Then we will take further decisions.”
BRTA recommends 80% hike in bus fare
The fare committee of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has recommended raising bus fares by 80% as owners have been directed to carry 50% of passengers to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The recommendation was made at a meeting of the BRTA’s fare fixing committee on Saturday.
BRTA chairman Yusuf Ali Molla said: “Bus owners demanded increasing fares by 100% as they would be allowed to carry half the number of passengers; but we recommended increasing fares by 80% after reviewing everything.
“Now we will send the proposal to the ministry for taking a final decision on the hike.”
50% bus seats must be kept vacant
Road, Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on Saturday said 50% seats on buses must be kept empty while plying on roads from Sunday.
He said: “Bus owners and workers will have to maintain health safety inside their vehicles. Besides, police and BRTA magistrates will be deployed at the terminals to take action against rule violators.”
Train tickets to be sold online only
Bangladesh Railway has decided to sell railway tickets only online from Saturday as train services resume from Sunday after a gap of more than two months due to the pandemic.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan said: “We will sell 50% of the tickets to avoid crowds. But all the tickets will be sold online. Tickets will not be sold at stations.
“Passengers can get on a train only from Kamalapur Railway Station to depart from Dhaka, as no train will stop at Airport, Gazipur, and Narsingdi railway stations to avoid crowding.”
The minister was speaking at a press briefing held at Rail Bhaban in Dhaka.
He said “We will operate 8 pairs of trains from Sunday and another 11 pairs will start from June 3.
However, Bangladesh Railway will not increase fares, despite the decrease in ticket sales.
The minister said: “As the fares are not increased, we guess passengers will rush to travel by train. We are requesting everyone not to travel except for emergencies.”
Apart from these, the following procedures will be executed by the Bangladesh Railway from Sunday:
Passengers will arrive at the station one hour before departure as the authorities will test body temperature. If the temperature is abnormal the authorities can order a cancellation of the trip.
Passengers must wear face masks, else they will not be allowed into the stations.
No one will get entry into the stations without a ticket.
Passengers will use one door for entry and another door for exit.
No sheets will be served for the air-conditioned coach. Passengers can carry their own if required.
No food will be served on the train.
BR will ensure hand sanitizers on trains.
Trains will be disinfected before departure.
Train services were suspended by the government on March 25, to curb the Covid-19 outbreak.
The railway system lacks the capacity to control large numbers of people, which is evident during the Eid rush.
Now, many people are planning to head back to Dhaka from their villages following the end of Eid holidays.
However, the railways minister said: “We still cannot predict what will happen once train services resume.”
“We will observe the situation. If we cannot control the crowds, then we will set further plans in motion,” he added.