Experts, officials stress that this does not mean health rules can be ignored
The government is set to ease strict restrictions on public movement across the country from Wednesday, although it has stressed that health guidelines must still be maintained.
The Cabinet Division on Sunday issued a circular confirming that the nationwide strict lockdown would not be extended past its current deadline on Tuesday.
Starting from Wednesday, all offices, banks, financial institutions, factories, and markets will reopen while strictly maintaining the government-issued health safety protocols. The safety protocols include the maintenance of social distancing, wearing of masks, and regular use of hand sanitizers.
Public transport services on land, rail, and waterways will resume operations at full capacity as well. Public transport was suspended on July 1 in a bid to combat the Delta variant of Covid-19.
“We will operate buses across the country from Wednesday,” said Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association.
Meanwhile, shopping malls will now be allowed to stay open from 10am to 8pm. Restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in services at half seating capacity.
Experts are, however, concerned by the easing of restrictions on shopping malls, restaurants, and public transports, as they feel the decision was taken too early and may lead to another spike in infections. The overall infection rate in Bangladesh is still above 16%. The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend easing restrictions till it drops below 5%.
On Monday, the daily infection rate was 24.28%. The country recorded its highest single day infection rate of 32.6% last month.
“There is no doubt that the infection rate will jump again two weeks after the resumption of offices, business, transports, and shopping malls,” said Dr Tarek Hussain, health advisor to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
“DGHS advisors will observe the situation for a week, then we will inform the government on whether to impose strict restrictions again,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
“As Bangladesh is one of the least vaccinated countries, strict restrictions should continue until the infection rate drops to 5% or after mass vaccinations roll out,” he added.
Noted virologist Dr Nazrul Islam, a former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said that such a relaxation of restrictions ran counter to the actual objective of a containment of the virus.
He also said that the infection rate had been dropping for the past few days due to the strict restrictions, but it would rise again following the relaxation as more people would use public transports and go to malls.
Dr Mushtaq Hussain, advisor to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), noted that the Covid situation would deteriorate after the restrictions have been relaxed.
He stressed the need to continue following health rules, including the wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing.