Reopening is risky: Govt health expert panel | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:55 PM, May 29, 2020

Reopening is risky: Govt health expert panel

Public transport, offices to resume operations from May 31

While the country sees the numbers of Covid-19 patients and deaths surge sharply, the government yesterday announced the end of the temporary shutdown.

All public transport, and public and private offices will resume on a limited scale from May 31.

However, all educational institutions will remain closed till June 15, according to a circular issued by the Cabinet Division yesterday.

The government's own health expert panel said the ongoing restrictions should be effective for at least another month.

Two members of the panel said the withdrawal of the shutdown would increase the risk of further spread, and country is heading in a terrible direction.

Meanwhile, in the last 24 hours until Thursday, 2,029 people tested positive for Covid-19 -- the highest number of infections detected in a single day in the country -- taking the total to 40,321.

Fifteen Covid-19 patients have died in the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 559, according to the Directorate General of Health Services.

The government shut down most public and private offices, and all public transport from March 26 and extended it till May 30 in several phases.

However, people's movement to and from Dhaka continued, especially during the Eid rush and when export-oriented factories partially resumed operations last month, exposing more people to the risk of infection.

WHAT THE CIRCULAR SAYS

The circular said all public, semi-government, autonomous and private offices can resume their activities on a limited scale. However, vulnerable people, sick employees and pregnant women won't need to join work.

All meetings should be held through virtual media debarring the physical presence of people and all offices must follow guidelines of the Directorate General of Health Service, it added.

No one would be allowed to leave their work stations between May 31 to June 15.

The circular also said public transport like buses, minibuses, launches and trains can be operated on a limited scale with a certain number of passengers, while following health safety rules. Everyone has to use mask, the circular added.

It said the respective ministry would issue necessary guidelines in this regard.

People's inter-district movement will remain restricted and they will not be allowed to go out of their homes between 8:00pm to 6:00am unless it is an emergency. All types of gatherings, meetings and programmes would also remain suspended.

Markets, shops and shopping malls will have to close after 4:00pm. However, all emergency services would remain out of the purview of the restriction.

THE EXPERT PANEL'S SAY

Prof Shah Monir Hossain, one of the eight members of a government-formed expert committee to supervise, monitor and support the coronavirus response, said, "It's a clear indication that we are going towards a worse situation."

The government's decision will definitely increase public health hazard as there is no doubt that people will not be able to follow safety guidelines while using public transport, especially buses and three-wheelers.

"We don't have any doubt that Covid-19 transmission will increase due to the government's decision, which will prolong the duration of the peak," Monir said.

Earlier, the committee said the Covid-19 outbreak may reach its peak in late May and the situation would remain unchanged for almost two weeks, or until the first week of June if the government continues various interventions.

"We had said the number of new cases was likely to come down to a 'tolerable level' by the end of June, unless the restrictions were relaxed too early. But now I think the transmission period will be prolonged till July to August," he warned.

Another member of the committee, Dr Liaquat Ali, also a medical scientist, said they had suggested that the government impose curfew before and after Eid vacation to contain the spread of Covid-19 infection.

"Instead of doing so, the government relaxed the restrictions," he said, adding that they suggested that the restrictions be lifted at least after June 25.

"What can we do if the government doesn't pay heed to our advice?

"I believe the government's decision will cause dire consequences regarding the spreading of Covid-19 and it will take more time to flatten the curve," he said.

RESUMPTION OF TRANSPORT

The civil aviation ministry yesterday said domestic flight operations will begin on a limited scale from June 1 following proper guidelines of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.

"We have decided to resume domestic flight operations on a limited scale initially between Dhaka and Chattogram, Sylhet and Saidpur," Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry Senior Secretary M Mohibul Haque said yesterday.

After observing the situation, the senior secretary said, they would consider resuming flights to all the seven domestic destinations, including Jashore and Rajshahi, after June 15.

Md Shamsuzzaman, director general of Bangladesh Railway, said they would resume operation of only intercity trains, that too on a limited scale. "The number of trains would be small and we would sell 50 percent of the tickets of each train to ensure social distancing," he said.

No AC coach would be operational as per the DGHS guidelines, he added.

ALL BANKS TO REOPEN

Bangladesh Bank yesterday asked banks to keep all their branches across the country open from May 31.

Banks will have to operate like they used to before general holidays were declared by the government, according to a central bank notice sent out to all lenders.

This means all branches of banks will run settlements of transactions from 10:00am to 4:00pm and lenders will keep their outlets open till 6:00pm every working day.

But the branches, located in the areas where the disease has spread significantly, will be allowed to operate their activities only until 4:00pm.

EXAMS POSTPONED

Half yearly exams of secondary schools, scheduled for June 13 to 24, will be deferred, said the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education (DSHE) Director General Prof Syed Md Golam Faruk.

Yesterday, the government extended the closure of all educational institutions till June 15 due to the coronavirus situation. All institutions have been closed since March 17.

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