The ease on Covid-19 lockdown should be extended to help reduce road accidents, harassment of commuters, and crowds, a passengers’ welfare group says
The government should extend the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions for another week after the Eid-ul-Azha festival to help the holidaymakers return to the capital maintaining hygiene rules, transport experts and transport workers have suggested.
The return of hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers to the capital only a day after the Eid is not realistic, they say, adding that the people trying to reach Dhaka in such a short period of time amid traffic congestion would aggravate the Covid situation of the country.
On the other hand, the government wants to discourage people from leaving Dhaka before the Eid.
According to the government order, the country will go into another phase of two-week strict lockdown kicks from 6am on July 23, after a break of nine days.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners’ Association (BRTOA), told Dhaka Tribune on Sunday that around 1-1.2 million people are expected to leave Dhaka by road this Eid, provided that the long-route buses operate at half capacity.
“It is impossible to transport such a large number of passengers in one day. They can return to Dhaka safely if the government extends the lockdown relaxation period. Otherwise, they will not be able to follow the health rules during the journey,” he added.
Mahbub Uddin Ahmed Bir Bikram, chairman of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport (passenger carriers) Association, said: “All the passengers who left or will leave Dhaka throughout the relaxation spell cannot possibly return in a single day. I do not think the government wants that either.”
According to top government officials concerned, the authorities did not lift the hard lockdown to allow the people to celebrate Eid in their village or hometown, but to give a boost to the economy since Eid-ul-Azha is amongst the biggest festivals in Bangladesh, in terms of both religious value, and trade and commerce.
Capacities of buses, launches
Before the pandemic, usually 2.5-3 million people left Dhaka by road during the Eid season, according to the BRTOA.
“As the buses are carrying passengers at half capacity, we are assuming that the number of passengers will be almost half of that this time around,” Khandaker Enayet Ullah said.
“Around 8,000 40-seater buses are operating from Dhaka to different parts of the country this Eid. Each day 320,000 passengers can be transported [at full capacity]. Some buses start another trip but it is tough to ensure two trips a day due to the traffic congestion caused mainly because of the cattle-laden trucks.”
On the waterways, there are 680 launches operating across the country. Of them, only 100 are medium or big vessels, which carry passengers during the Eid season from Dhaka to Barisal, Chandpur, Barguna, Bhola and other southern destinations.
“These 100 vessels can transport around 3,000 passengers per trip without any risk. On average, 300,000 people can leave Dhaka during the Eid if the vessels carry passengers at full capacity,” Mahbub Uddin Ahmed said.
During the three-four days of Eid holidays, each watercraft can make five to six trips.
Around a hundred small vessels, each capable of carrying 150 passengers, ply the Aricha-Mawa route during Eid as well, Mahbub said.
Passengers’ welfare body wants more days for return trips
Bangladesh Passengers' Welfare Association has demanded that the lockdown relaxation be extended till July 26 to minimize sufferings of the passengers.
It says the extension will help reduce road accidents, harassment of passengers, transport fare anarchy and crowds on the journey back to Dhaka after the Eid.
“It is not possible for everyone to reach Dhaka from their villages on July 22,” said its General Secretary Mozammel Hoque Chowdhury.
Tough lockdown after Eid
The government is set to enforce a tough lockdown as soon as the relaxation of curbs ends, State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain said on Sunday.
“Cattle trade ahead of Eid-ul-Azha impacts our economy in a considerable way. In light of that, we had to lift the restrictions. But adherence to health guidelines is a must. Everyone has to wear a mask until the vaccination drive concludes. The lockdown after the Eid will be the toughest one yet,” he said.
“All government and private offices, including the garments factories and other industrial units, will remain shut from July 23 for 14 days,” he added.
Meanwhile, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said: “People have to decide where they want to be during this Eid. We are discouraging everyone from leaving Dhaka ahead of Eid-ul-Azha because a strict lockdown will be enforced from July 23 and it will not be easy to return to the capital before that.”
Worsening Covid situation
Bangladesh has been witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in July – caused by the deadly Delta variant, and it is well on its way to becoming the deadliest month for the country by far if the situation does not improve soon.
On Wednesday, the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19 expressed disapproval of the government’s decision to relax the strict lockdown ahead of Eid-ul-Azha.
The health authorities reported 225 new fatalities and 11,578 more cases in the 24 hours to 8am on Sunday. The latest additions took the country’s pandemic death toll to 17,894 and total caseload to 1,103,989.