Droves of people look to leave the capital as Bangladesh set to go into a total shutdown
As Bangladesh prepares to go into a hard lockdown from Monday amid an alarming rise in Covid-19 infections, people are in a rush to leave Dhaka city in masses.
However, as long route bus services from the capital have been suspended since Wednesday, people on Saturday were coming up against impediments in reaching their destinations.
Experts fear the exodus could spell disaster by facilitating the spread of Covid-19 across the country, similarly to the rush home for the Eid holidays earlier this year.
Visits by Dhaka Tribune correspondents to Dhaka’s Gabtoli and Mohakhali bus terminals showed hundreds of people, many with their families, heading out of the city.
Despite an embargo on all sorts of long-distance public transports and for-hire vehicles, they are journeying home on trucks, microbuses, cars, auto-rickshaws and motorbikes.
Many passengers said they feared the lockdown might be extended further, which was why they were leaving the capital in large numbers.
Scores of microbuses and private cars queued up in front of the bus terminals to take on board the homebound passengers.
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South-bound travellers swarm Shimulia
With passenger transport on the waterways suspended, ferry terminals are seeing a huge rush of people.
Even though government-imposed restrictions have been in place, the ferry terminal of Munshiganj’s Shimulia was overcrowded with south-bound travellers.
Ferries were packed with thousands of people, clearly ignoring health and safety protocols.
Shafayet Ahmed, the Shimulia-based manager of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), said 14 ferries were operating for emergency services and ambulances on the Shimulia-Banglabazar route.
"Passengers are gathering at the jetty. Whenever a ferry arrives, chaos breaks out over boarding it,” he said.
Passengers are boarding ferries to cross the river as launches, speedboats and trawlers are all barred from operating.
Hundreds of vehicles are waiting to cross the Padma River at both ends of the terminal, said the BIWTC official.
The police have installed check-posts at several locations on the Dhaka-Mawa Highway to monitor the situation, said Additional Superintendent Sumon Dev.
Meanwhile, many people have gathered at the other end of the terminal to make their way back to the capital.
Exodus nearly guarantees another wave
“This is surely the start of the next wave of Covid-19 in Bangladesh,” Mushtaq Hossain, adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Dhaka Tribune.
He said the infection rate could skyrocket even higher if people continued to flout health guidelines.
“People are going home, ignoring health guidelines, even though the health authorities are constantly telling them not to. However, there are a few reasons why they do not feel safe staying in the city when a lockdown is ordered,” he told the correspondent.
There is a huge section of people who live in Dhaka without their families, and they might be afraid that nobody would be there to look after them if they fell ill, he added.
“This could be one reason why people are desperate to go home before the lockdown starts. Also, day-wage workers would not have any means to bring food to the table if there is a lockdown,” the IEDCR adviser further said.
The government announced a strict countrywide shutdown on Friday, when 108 deaths were reported from coronavirus, the second highest single-day toll since the pandemic's outbreak.
The move came after the national Covid advisory panel recommended a two-week shutdown.
Bangladesh has seen a spike in coronavirus infections and fatalities in recent weeks.
Community transmission of the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus, first identified in India, might be the reason behind the dramatic surge in infections, the experts’ panel said on Thursday.
The death toll due to Covid-19 reached 14,053 on Saturday while the total caseload touched 883,138 with 4,334 new cases in the last 24 hours, according to the latest data by the health authorities.