Experts suggest allowing only emergency goods through the borders
Despite learning about the presence of the highly contagious Indian variant of Covid-19 in Bangladesh, the government is still not considering a suspension of exports and imports with India through land ports.
Officials say that Bangladesh is prioritizing import of rice and other necessary goods, chemicals and raw materials for industries in order to check high prices and to meet local demand during the pandemic.
On the other hand, the country is exporting masks, electronic items and garments leftovers to India.
“I do not think the government will stop goods transportation with India very soon,” a top-level official at the Shipping Ministry told Dhaka Tribune, asking not to be named.
Currently, drivers and helpers of Indian trucks and cargos are being kept in isolation at the ports to prevent a spread of the virus.
Goods-laden vehicles are now using Benapol, Bhomra, Burimari, Sonahat, Hili and Akhaura land ports every day. Operations have remained suspended only at Tamabil land port, after the Meghalaya government enforced a lockdown in the area, which includes Dawki port opposite Tamabil port.
On April 26, Bangladesh closed its borders with India for 14 days for passengers, but cargoes carrying goods are allowed to operate as usual. In the meantime, Bangladesh detected its first cases of the Indian coronavirus variant, prompting the authorities to extend the closure of the land borders for two more weeks.
The health authorities have detected six cases of the variant. All of them were exposed to the variant as they had recently visited India. They have been kept in isolation, say officials.
“Goods transportation is necessary. We cannot stop it, but we can do it in a more secure way by isolating the drivers and helpers at the land ports,” Prof Dr Mohammad Shahidullah, president of the National Technical Advisory Committee, told Dhaka Tribune on Monday.
“If we fail to isolate the divers and helpers, then the Covid-19 virus may spread among others,” he added.
Our Khulna correspondent reports that currently around 1,000 trucks are moving through India and Bangladesh at the Benapole-Petrapole border, throwing up health risks for around 20,000 people engaged in the process.
However, Md Rezaul Karim, chairman of Bangladesh Shippers’ Council, a body of exporters and importers, told Dhaka Tribune that suspension of goods transportation with India would be unwise.
In the 2019-20 fiscal year, Bangladesh exported a total of $1.1 billion worth of goods to India. At the same time, goods worth $5.8 billion were imported from the country’s next-door neighbor, according to the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh.
Talking to Dhaka Tribune on Monday, Dr Tarek Hussain, a public health expert at the Asian Development Bank, said that Bangladesh should export or import only essential goods to curb the spread of the Indian variant.
“If our land ports are handling 1,000 trucks a day, then we have to ensure health measures for at least 2,000 people of these vehicles. But if restrictions are imposed, then we will have to deal with 30% of the current load, which will be very effective in preventing the spread of the virus,” Dr Tarek added.
A customs officer working at Benapole port, on condition of anonymity, said: “Officially, there are no emergency goods. But unofficially, goods that rot easily, health safety goods and raw materials for the industrial sector are treated as emergency goods by us.”
Even if no suspension order is issued, operations at the land ports will remain closed during the Eid holidays, say port officials.
Tariqul Islam, chairman of Bangladesh Land Port Authority, told Dhaka Tribune that there would be no operations at the ports during Eid.
“All ports will not remain closed the same day. Every port will decide its own holidays after consulting with its counterparts and local CNF agents,” he added.