As overcrowding on buses, trains and launches are significant during such Eid rush, the government during Eid-ul-Fitr held on May 25 allowed only private cars to transport people along long routes
With the Eid-ul-Azha knocking at the door, Dhaka is now preparing itself for a rush of outbound people set to head for their native village homes to celebrate the festival with their near and dear ones.
However, the homebound journey this time will be much different as the government remains strict to enforce health safety guidelines amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On an average, more than five million people leave Dhaka twice a year during the Eid holidays.
Apart from the pandemic, which has already forced thousands of families to leave the capital for their ancestral home due to job losses, people hailing from some 31 districts will mostly avoid the journey home due to heavy flood situation.
As the outward flow of people continues to pick up, health experts now fear that discipline in maintaining social distancing may not be followed during the day before Eid which might cause a spike in Covid-19 infections in the country.
As overcrowding on buses, trains and launches are significant during such Eid rush, the government during Eid-ul-Fitr held on May 25 allowed only private cars to transport people along long routes.
However, along with private cars, thousands of people rushed to ferries, motorcycles, and auto-rickshaws to reach home that reportedly caused a hike in coronavirus infections later in June.
This time, the government has allowing all modes of transport to move people, but on a limited scale.
Government to strictly control overcrowding
The government has taken various measures to strictly control overcrowding of home-goers on trains, buses and launches.
In this regard, the Railway ministry, Road Transport and Bridges Ministry and Shipping Ministry have individually taken some initiatives to tackle overcrowding and enforce heath guidelines.
Railways not to tolerate illegal passengers
Railways Minister Md Nurul Islam Sujan has said: “We have decided to carry half of the capacity in trains. Only those who have purchased tickets will be able to travel by train during the Eid-ul-Azha holidays this year.”
“To reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission, no additional passengers will be allowed to get on trains this time,” he said.
This year, Bangladesh Railway (BR) took an initiative to sell all of its tickets online through their mobile app and website. The minister said this timely initiative will help avoid huge crowds.
Every year, BR sells a limited number of tickets online while the rest of the tickets are sold at rail station counters which usually draws huge crowd. This time, BR banked on online sales to avoid crowding at the stations for tickets.
“We have been operating intercity trains in a limited manner after resuming service on June 1 and we will not increase the number of train ahead of Eid as we do not want people to travel without an emergency,” Railway minister Nurul Islam Sujan told the Dhaka Tribune.
Moreover, BR has enforced strict vigilance at Kamalpur Railway Station so that none can get entry without ticket. There will be no stoppages for the trains leaving Dhaka at the Airport, Joydebpur, and Narsingdi stations to offload illegal passengers.
The minister noted that hand sanitizing stations have been set up at the railway stations and trains are being disinfected as well.
BRTA mobile courts to ensure health guidelines
Besides, Road Transport and Highways division and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) have been operating mobile court at the all bus terminals in Dhaka.
At the same time, vigilance teams have also been deployed to monitor any lapse in enforcing health guidelines.
BRTA Chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder said: “Apart from the operation of mobile court and vigilance teams, we have issued letters to all transport owners association to follow the rules. If they will not follow the health guidelines and other rules, we will take legal action.”
“The terminals are always being cleaned by the city corporation as we have requested them to do so,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
“We didn’t get a single complain yet that any long-route transport carried more than 50% passengers than its capacity,” he added.
BIWTA introduces “markings on deck” to ensure social distancing
Similarly, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has introduced markings on launch decks to ensure social distancing while travelling on the waterways.
At the same time, mobile court and vigilance team have been working at Sadarghat Launch Terminal since July 23.
However, huge currents on the Padma River had disrupted ferry service along the Daulatdia-Paturia route, causing long tailbacks of vehicles.
BIWTA Chairman Commodore Golam Sadeq visited the ferry terminal on Tuesday, and directed authorities to repair all damages caused by the river current and floods to ensure smooth journey of homebound people.
Besides, Shipping Minister Khaled Mahmud Choudhury said: “We are trying our best to ensure health safety and control overcrowding.”
“It has been made mandatory to follow the marked down areas on the deck at all launches to ensure social distancing,” he said.
“We have set disinfection tunnels at the river ports, including Sadarghat, as well as measuring temperature of all passengers.”
Passengers more alert this time
While visiting counters of some long-route buses, it was found that tickets were being sold at a higher price due “two seats per passenger” rule to ensure social distancing as per the government health guidelines.
As a result, bus counter cannot sell tickets more than 50% of their capacity.
Many passengers were seen carrying personal hand sanitizers although most buses have placed hand sanitizers for the passengers.
However, many passengers were seen not wearing masks at the terminals despite being made mandatory as per the health guidelines.
Experts fear of another spike in Covid-19 infections
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, public health expertsDr Lanin Chowdhury said traveling from coronavirus hotspots, such as Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayaganj and Gazipur, to other district towns may increase the infection rate further.
Similarly, transport expert Prof Shamsul Haque said authorities cannot control the crowd as many people will departure the Dhaka just one or two days of before Eid using trucks and pick-up vans.
“Many cattle laden trucks, which arrived in Dhaka with cattle, will go back with passengers,” said Prof Shamsul, who teachers at Buet’s Civil Engineering department.
Directorate General of Health Services Assistant Director Ayesha Akhter said: “Coronavirus infection rate is slower now than the previous. It is very important to follow the health guideline while travelling ahead of Eid to avoid further rise in infection rate.