The health minister, who is heading the national committee on coronavirus, says he feels utterly helpless as other sectors are not coordinating with the committee before making any decisions
Health Minister Zahid Maleque, who is heading the national committee to tackle coronavirus in Bangladesh, says he feels utterly helpless with his job, facing questions from home and abroad, but failing to respond as he isn’t aware of many decisions made by other authorities concerned.
“I am the chairman of the national committee as the health minister, but I am not aware of the decisions [regarding coronavirus response],” he said on Monday. “I don’t know about the discussions about when the factories will be open, or whether they will resume operations or not, or how the mosques will organize their prayer congregations.”
The minister further said he was also unaware of how and when the roads would be opened or restricted for movement, in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 – a severely acute respiratory illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus named Sars-Cov-2, which has become a global pandemic in less than three months.
“No issues except the ones related to health services are discussed with me,” Maleque said, while addressing a discussion on Covid-19 management organized by Bangladesh College of Physicians and Surgeons in Dhaka.
The health minister further said journalists asked him many questions, blaming him for the situation right now, asking him why he is not aware of the decisions made by different sectors despite being the head of the national response committee.
“This is a problem,” he pointed out. “They [the authorities concerned] could have consulted with the national committee before making such decisions.”
As of Monday, 123 people in Bangladesh have tested positive with the Covid-19 infection, 12 of whom died.
The government imposed a general holiday across the country on March 26 to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection in Bangladesh. The soft lockdown was initially supposed to end on April 4, but was extended till April 11, and then till April 14.
The government took many initiatives to prevent the spread of the extremely contagious disease, which originated in Wuhan, China in December last year. Other than essential services like supershops, kitchen markets, food services, banks and pharmacies, everything was shut down.
As factories closed down after the shutdown came into effect, thousands of RMG workers left Dhaka for their home districts.
However, despite the extension of the shutdown, many RMG factories decided to resume operations, forcing the workers to travel back to Dhaka.
As regular transport services are also suspended, workers walked or used alternative modes of transports to reach Dhaka, starting on Friday morning, flouting the mandatory instruction to maintain social distancing as they were worried they would lose their jobs.
The factory owners’ decision to resume operations met harsh criticisms, leading to their decision to keep the factories closed for another week.
This created another homeward-bound rush on Sunday; Dhaka’s exit points were crowded with people looking for public transport to head back to their hometowns.
Different organizations, including Transparency International Bangladesh, described the fiasco as a violation of security and health rights of the garment workers by the factory owners.
On Sunday, Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said it was not their responsibility to decide when to open and close the RMG factories.
However, on Monday, BGMEA sent a letter to all RMG factory owners requesting them to keep the factories closed till April 14, in line with the general holiday.
On the same day, during the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also asked RMG exporters to close down all their factory units, barring those involved in making personal protection equipment (PPE) and masks for healthcare providers.