The process to bring back the Bangladeshis will depend on the local administration’s consent in the context of the current situation
Directing all government officials to remain vigilant in preventing the coronavirus from spreading in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered the bringing back of Bangladeshis who are stuck in China and want to return home.
“I have already started discussions with the Chinese government in this regard,” State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said on a Facebook post on Monday, sharing the prime minister’s order.
The process of bringing back Bangladeshis will depend on the local administration’s consent in the current situation, he added.
Shahriar also said: “Our main goal is to ensure the safety and security of our people."
Later in the day, a preliminary instruction will be issued to prepare a list of Bangladeshis wishing to return from China, he added.
During the weekly cabinet meeting at the secretariat in Dhaka on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Hasina also ordered all government officials to stay fully vigilant to prevent the virus from entering Bangladesh.
Until on Monday, the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China rose to 81 with more than 2,800 infected, while health authorities around the world stepped up screening of passengers from China.
A small number of cases linked to people who travelled from the central city of Wuhan have been confirmed in more than 10 countries, including Cambodia, Thailand, France, Japan, and the US, but no deaths have been reported outside China.
Sheikh Hasina’s directives came at a time when Chinese authorities have shut down Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and a major transport hub that is the epicentre of the outbreak. According to local police, special permission is needed to leave the city.
Millions of people in surrounding cities are virtually stranded after public transport networks were shut to stop the spread of the virus, believed to have originated at a Wuhan market illegally selling wildlife.
Wuhan’s airport is not closed, but nearly all flights have been cancelled, officials said.
On Sunday, a senior Foreign Ministry official told Dhaka Tribune that they would issue a directive, urging all Bangladeshis in China to leave Wuhan if they are able to do so.
But last night, another senior ministry official said that Dhaka officially requested Beijing to allow people to leave the affected areas, but the Chinese government said they would not allow that in the next 14 days.
The official said the Chinese foreign ministry has briefed the diplomatic community there and said no one would be allowed out of Wuhan within 14 days as it is the incubation period of the virus. They do not want to risk further spreading of the virus.
Both Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen were unavailable for comment.
All out efforts
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed the coronavirus outbreak at a discussion with cabinet members on Monday, after the health minister apprised her about the steps taken so far in Bangladesh to prevent the virus from entering the country.
The cabinet meeting expressed deep concern as the virus has already spread in over 10 countries around the world.
“We have to be more alert. There are many Bangladeshis who are in China right now and many Chinese people are also here, so there is still a possibility of the virus spreading in Bangladesh,” Hasina said.
After the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters that the prime minister also gave instructions to thoroughly screen people coming here from China or Hong Kong or their neighbouring countries.
She said, according to Anwarul, that special quarantine arrangements should be made at airports and all other ports so that the virus does not spread in Bangladesh.
Special attention should be given to the ports that have direct contact with China and are receiving goods from that country, she said.
However, a cabinet member, requesting anonymity, told Dhaka Tribune: “Our international ports have the necessary facilities to detect the coronavirus; so, you can say that we are cautious, but not worried.”
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said on Sunday that the government was considering a temporary ban on travel to and from China as a precautionary measure in the wake of the outbreak.
He also said an inter-ministerial meeting will be held on Tuesday, which will discuss the issue of imposing the ban with urgency.
The Health Ministry on Sunday set up a control room/information centre at the Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) in Dhaka to oversee everything being done to ensure that the coronavirus does not spread in Bangladesh.
Over the past few days, IEDCR has also been screening passengers arriving at Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport from China or who frequently travel through China or that region, for signs or symptoms of the virus.
In line with directives from the ministry and IEDCR, medical teams also started working on Monday at several immigration check posts and land ports at the country’s border with India, where the coronavirus has also spread.
These places are: Darshana immigration check post in Chuadanga, Bhomra land port in Satkhira, Hili immigration check post in Dinajpur, Akhaura immigration check post in Brahmanbaria, and Sona Masjid land port in Chapainawabganj.
Thousands of people travel between Bangladesh and India every day through these ports and border points.
From 9am to 5pm every day until further notice, medical teams will carry out checkups on people arriving from other countries for symptoms of infection, according to the civil surgeons of these districts.
Dhaka Tribune’s Ali Asif Shawon, Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan and district correspondents contributed to this report