Measures taken at these densely-populated camps can be implemented across the country
While the country has crossed a grim milestone of 10,000 coronavirus infections, there are so far no confirmed cases of the deadly virus in the densely-populated Rohingya camps that have been and still are considered one of the most vulnerable places to the ongoing pandemic.
Undoubtedly, preventing the virus so far from entering the camps can be called a success given the congested and unhygienic conditions nearly a million residents live in.
How has this been possible?
The simple answers are: Authorities in charge of managing 34 Rohingya camps took precautions early, enforced stringent measures within the camps and made the Rohingyas aware of the consequences of the outbreak of the deadly virus that has claimed lives of some 200 people across the country.
If the management in the Rohingya camps could be emulated across the country, things would, perhaps, been much better.
“We have been careful all along with respect to coronavirus in Rohingya camps. Since the responsibility of the health and wellbeing of more than a million Rohingyas lies with us, we did not take any chances,” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told Dhaka Tribune.
“Since foreigners are involved with the humanitarian operations in the camps, we took extra precaution so that the virus does not spread through them. We became very selective in allowing foreigners who would work in the settlements,” he said.
“Thank God, there are so far no cases of coronavirus in the camps. Look, right after the detection of the first coronavirus infection in the country on March 8, we became more alert, because we knew that if the virus enters the highly-congested camps, it would be extremely difficult to contain it,” Mahbub Alam Talukder, refugee relief and repatriation commissioner (RRRC) based in Cox’s Bazar, told this correspondent.
“Apart from putting health facilities in place in coordination with agencies of the United Nations and NGOs, we took some instant measures such as barring newly-arrived foreigners to enter the camps and making people aware,” he said.
“Following the declaration of the general holidays by the government on March 23, we have enforced a total lockdown in the camps,” said RRRC Talukder, the top government man on the ground in relation to the Rohingya crisis.
Rohingyas are included in the guidelines and preparedness for Covid-19, he reminded.
All activities, except for emergency services, were suspended in every camp, said the RRRC, who is under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief.
"All gatherings, including religious ones, were barred. We asked the camp residents to pray at home rather than in mosques. Schools, madrasas and other non-essential facilities remained closed,” he said.
"The message is very clear; always stay at home for the security of yourself and others. The residents of the camps paid heed to the message that made our task easier," he added.
“Things are so far so good. But, we are not complacent. We are constantly trying to keep the Rohingya camps free from the virus,” Dr Mahbubur Rahman, civil surgeon of Cox’s Bazar, told Dhaka Tribune.
“We have been able to enforce the strict social distancing rules across the camps. Most importantly, we have been able to make the Rohingyas understand the dire consequences of the outbreak of the virus. They are listening to us. There are instances where Rohingyas are informing us about any new faces in the camps,” he said.
“The awareness among the Rohingyas is helping us to a great extent,” he added.
As the Rohingyas in the camps appear to be obeying the instructions to remain safe from coronavirus, the people of the country seem to be doing just the opposite.
The lengthy general holidays are meant to ensure social distancing to halt the spread of the virus. But, a significant number of people are not obeying these directives, putting the lives of themselves and others at risk. Of course, many cannot afford to do so due to financial crisis.
On the top of that, many garments have opened up and shopping malls are going to reopen from May 10 to make things worse. The efforts of the government to keep people at homes appear to be not working.Considering the handling of the issue in the Rohingya camps as a model, if the authorities could apply it across the country, the number of deaths and infections would have been much lower.