Bangladesh extends restrictions on public movement till May 16

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Intra-city bus services allowed to transport passengers from May 6 while long-route transport suspended till May 16; Eid-ul-Fitr holidays no longer than three days

The government has decided to extend the ongoing restrictions on public movement across Bangladesh till May 16 to curb Covid-19 transmission.

The decision came at the weekly cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina via videoconference, at the secretariat in Dhaka on Monday. Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam later briefed reporters on the decision.

Intra-city and intra-district bus services will be allowed to transport passengers from May 6, but there will be no long-route public transport, including buses, trains and launches, until further notice. Domestic flights will continue to operate.

Since Eid-ul-Fitr is scheduled to be observed on May 13 or 14, the Eid holidays will fall within the restriction period. The decision to keep long-route public transports suspended was taken to discourage the usual homebound rush during the holidays, as it would facilitate the spread of Covid-19.

Several ministers who attended the meeting, on condition of anonymity, told this newspaper that the ongoing restrictions had been effective in curbing the recent surge of Covid-19, as evidenced by the decreasing daily death toll over the past two weeks.

“If people maintain health guidelines, the transmission and fatality rate falls. So, in the coming days, the government wants to discourage public movement on a large scale during Eid,” said a minister.

Explaining the decision to resume public transports within cities, a cabinet member said: “We know many people will leave Dhaka to celebrate Eid at their homes no matter what we try to do to discourage them.

Hopefully, many people will decide against returning if long-route transports are suspended. We have taken this strategy to try to contain Covid-19.”
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said on Monday morning that public transport services would resume under some conditions.

The conditions

In districts, public transports must only operate on the periphery; in city corporation areas, buses must not operate beyond designated areas
Public transports must operate at the newly adjusted fare, with a minimum half of the seats vacant; no extra fare can be charged
Transport workers and passengers must wear masks and use hand sanitizers; buses must be disinfected after each trip.

Regarding the resumption of intra-district transport services, the cabinet secretary said health guidelines must be strictly followed on public vehicles.

“If there is any violation of safety rules, the limited public transport services will be shut down too,” he warned, adding that transport owners had assured the government of enforcing Covid-19 safety rules.

No extra holiday this Eid

The government has also decided on a three-day public holiday this Eid-ul-Fitr. No organization will be allowed to give additional leave beyond the three days on its own initiative.

The decision is applicable to all government and non-government organizations.

“No additional leave can be given. Government offices will be closed for three days. Friday and Saturday are two of the three days, Thursday is the other, “said Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam.

He also said the border with India was set to stay closed. Only trade was being allowed at the border currently.

Health Minister Zahid Maleque stated that the ministry had recommended that the border with India stay closed.
Mobile courts at shopping malls

The government is set to deploy mobile courts to monitor shopping centres and malls for strict compliance with health safety guidelines put in place to check the spread of Covid-19.

If shopping malls are found wanting in strictly enforcing safety rules, they might be shut down, the cabinet secretary said.

“The Shop Owners Association has assured the government that the shop owners will cooperate. They will also monitor to ensure that health safety protocols are followed,” he added.
Earlier, the government imposed countrywide restrictions on April 14 for a week to tackle the surge in Covid-19 deaths, brought on by the pandemic’s second wave. The restrictions were later extended till April 28, then till May 5.

However, in the face of growing demand, the government gave permission for a reopening of shops and malls across the country from April 25.

Experts believe the ongoing restrictions in Bangladesh have been showing results as both active coronavirus cases and the death toll have declined over the last few days in the country.

Last week, Bangladesh recorded the lowest single-day death toll since April 6. On Sunday, the virus infection rate dropped to 9.6% from 23% early last month.

Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said the fall in the number of Covid cases and deaths had proved that the ongoing restrictions were showing results.

“But we still can’t say whether we have overcome the second wave of the virus. We can only say the restrictions have proved effective in containing the virus,” the expert observed.

Meanwhile, health experts have also recommended extending the restrictions on public movement and gatherings.

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