Thousands leave Dhaka defying health rules
With the announcement of a weeklong strict lockdown and taking into account the beginning of Ramadan, buyers were seen flocking to the markets of the capital since the morning on Tuesday to purchase essential commodities.
Looking at the shoppers, there was no way of realizing that there was a pandemic afflicting the country.
Dhaka’s New Market Kacha Bazar, Karwan Bazar, Azampur Kacha Bazar and marketplaces in Lalbagh, Jatrabari and Hatirpul were overflowing with people who mostly went to buy groceries in preparation for the holy month.
Customers who went to buy daily necessities said if the lockdown was extended, the prices of rice, onion, garlic, dates, edible oil, fish, eggs, meat and other essentials would likely go up, which was why they were buying more than required.
Many of them seemed careless about health guidelines, like wearing masks even though the marketplaces remained overcrowded throughout the day.
Nazmul Hasan, shopping at Karwan Bazar, said: “Ramadan is going to start from tomorrow. Lockdown is starting again as well. It will be hard to go to the market while fasting, which is why I am buying daily necessities in advance.”
“I am buying more than I would usually because movement around the capital will be monitored strictly by law enforcers and there is a possibility that the lockdown will be extended,” he added.
Another shopper, one Raisul Islam, complained that there was a steep rise in the prices of daily commodities.
“Cognizant of the high demand, shopkeepers have raised the prices of essential items. No one is here to monitor the prices. Customers have become helpless,” he said.
While buying groceries from Karwan Bazar, Rifat Ali said: “It is difficult to predict what the situation will be after the lockdown starts tomorrow [Wednesday]. Now that the prices of potatoes and onions are slightly lower, I am buying a little extra. No one knows what will happen to the market afterwards.”
Meanwhile, low income people of Dhaka were seen queuing up near the trucks of the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) to buy essential items at subsidized prices.
Delowar Hossain, one of the people tasked with selling TCB goods, said: “We have brought a huge amount of essential products for customers as the demand is higher than usual due to Ramadan and the pandemic.”
On the other side of the fence, Hasanuzzaman Mondol, who was shopping at an outlet of the super shop Shwapno, said: “It seems like the lockdown will be tougher this time around. I heard that we will need to acquire movement passes from the police to go out for shopping. I am doing some extra shopping for all these reasons.”
Large crowds were seen setting out for their hometowns or villages from Dhaka on Tuesday, with little or no attention to Covid-19 health norms.
Traffic police said the highways connecting Mymensingh, Sylhet and Tangail to Dhaka were jampacked like they would be on the occasion of Eid.
Traffic officer Sergeant Abul Hasnat said cases had been filed against several microbuses and private cars on charges of carrying passengers from Gabtoli Bus Stand.
It was, however, impossible to apprehend every offender due to the sheer numbers of people, he added. “Many people are taking advantage [of the situation] to depart with passengers while some have been fined.”
Meanwhile, many of the people who wanted to leave the capital had to suffer a great deal as they could not buy tickets to their destinations since the government had directed buses to carry passengers at half capacity.
Rafiqul Islam, manager of the counter of Royal Coach at Gabtoli Bus Stand, said: “All tickets have sold out. Since the announcement of the strict lockdown, countless numbers of people have come to our counter to buy tickets. It was like the demand made during Eid.”
The scene was similar at Sadarghat Launch Terminal as well.
Scores of people have left Dhaka for Barisal, Bhola, Barguna, Patuakhali, Chandpur and other places via the terminal after receiving news of the lockdown.
Most of the launches were unable to follow the government directive to leave 50% of the seats empty owing to the huge rush of passengers.