'We forbid passengers from getting on the ship without masks'
The government’s move to reopen transports, including airways, to keep the economy afloat may have an adverse effect on the Covid-19 situation and invalidate all previous shutdown measures.
Health experts and local government bodies across Bangladesh have urged everyone to strictly follow health guidelines to curtail the spread of the coronavirus during winter.
On the other hand, airways, hotel-motel owners, and service providers claim they have provided equipment to maintain hygiene and instructed all staff, including drivers, supervisors, and their helpers, to strictly follow health guidelines.
After visiting tourist hotspots in Cox's Bazar and Saint Martin’s, and talking to several airways and hotel owners, Dhaka Tribune found that health guidelines, especially the use of masks, were ignored on a large scale. Passengers travelled freely and carelessly on mass transport and other vehicles.
Furthermore, social distancing is not being enforced on the routes where tourist vehicles are carrying more passengers. Drivers of ships, human haulers such as tempos, CNG run auto-rickshaws, and other vehicles which ferry passengers in tourist spots of Cox’s Bazar do not start a trip until all seats are occupied.
M Hossainul Islam Bahadur, director of the ship MV Karnaphuli Express and managing director of Farhan Express Tourism, said the authorities are making sure everyone, including staff and passengers, wears face masks.
“'We forbid passengers from getting on the ship without masks,” he added.
A visit onboard the ship showed his words to be true. However, the crew and passengers were seen taking off their masks when not speaking to this reporter.
Airlines trying to follow health guidelines
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) has updated guidelines for air operators, airports, and passengers, in its efforts to increase passengers on domestic routes.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) rules, flight operators can carry passengers in all seats except the last two rows, on condition that the airline provides face shields to passengers.
CAAB Chairman Air Vice-Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said the airlines must provide a face shield to every passenger to mitigate the risk of infection and the decision complies with IATA rules.
US-Bangla Airlines General Manager (public relations) Kamrul Islam said the number of passengers is increasing as they are following health guidelines and providing health equipment, and the number of flights is also being increased to meet the demand of passengers.
Mesbah-ul Islam, head of marketing and sales for Novoair, said the cost of air travel is now lower and passenger turnout increased 85% compared to when air travel was restricted.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines operates two daily flights in Cox's Bazar. Md Mokabbir Hossain, managing director, and chief executive officer of Biman said the passenger turnout is good on the domestic routes.
Hotels ready to host more travellers
Around 500 hotels and motels, 1,500 to 2,000 food outlets, and thousands of workers in the beach city are providing low-cost services to travellers.
The Bangladesh Tourism Corporation (BPC) will offer non-seasonal discounts in hotels and motels located in Cox's Bazar and Kuakata that are under its control.
US-Bangla and Novoair, are offering a holiday package for Cox's Bazar for two nights three days stay starting from Tk9,000 to Tk10,600 for a person travelling from Dhaka.
The hotels Ocean Paradise Hotel and Resort, Best Western Heritage, Royal Tulip Pearl Beach Resort, Long Beach Hotel, Windy terrace Boutique Hotel, Grace Cox Smart Hotel and Praasad Paradise Hotel and Resort, Sayeman Beach Resort, and Neeshorgo Hotel and Resort are also offering holiday packages.
MN Karim, chairman of the Ocean Paradise Hotel and Resort said despite allowing only 50% of the hotel rooms following administration's directives the booking numbers are increasing day by day.
Abdul Kaium Chowdhury, managing director of Hotel The Cox Today and member of Cox's Bazar Hotel-Motel Owners Association said they strictly follow hygiene rules and disinfect rooms and other facilities.
Travellers roam ignoring health guidelines
While the tourists are confronted by the media or law enforcement and at the check points they immediately wear masks, but, after entering the beach, someone is throwing the mask away and someone is putting it in their pocket.
The tourist police said before passengers enter the beach, they disinfect their hands with sanitizers, but they declined to comment on maintaining social distancing protocols inside the beach.
It is not only difficult to wear a mask all the time, but the moments of joy cannot be captured on camera. And if you cannot capture the moments, it is useless to come beach, said travelers Noyel Tulip and her friend Rubiaya Rahim.
Authorities, experts warn
As for social distancing on flights, CAAB Senior Secretary Md Mohibul Haque said: “We are monitoring whether the passengers and the airlines are following all the hygiene rules and other instructions.”
He said all measures had been taken at the airports to ensure the health and safety of passengers.
He further said the government has already given directives to conduct mobile courts and punish those who are violating the guidelines.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s personal physician Dr ABM Abdullah has said: “We need both lives and livelihood but we need to strictly follow health guidelines and take actions against those violating them.”
Physician Dr ABM Abdullah warned: “If we want to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the only way to do it is to stop community transmission by practicing awareness. Day by day passengers will overcrowd tourist spots.
“The Covid-19 situation will then worsen and the virus will hit with double force.”