Amphan, the cyclone formed in the Bay of Bengal on Saturday, may lash the coastal districts in three days, upending social distancing and hygiene practices needed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Located about 1,200km off the coast as of last night, the cyclone has the potential to warrant the evacuation of thousands of villagers from their homes, and eventually the people will end up in crowded cyclone shelters, health and disaster management experts say.
State Minister Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief, said officials have been ordered to increase the number of shelters to prevent crowding.
"The 4,071 cyclone shelters we have are ready. But Keeping the Covid-19 situation in mind, we asked all local administration and law enforcing agencies to arrange temporary cyclone shelters," he told The Daily Star.
Officials and volunteers are working to ensure that every school, college, and madrasa along the coast can be used as shelters during the cyclone.
"Also, we have asked them to ensure social distancing and other measures inside the shelters… If somebody is sick or has a fever, they will be taken to the upazila health complex for isolation."
During last year's cyclone Bulbul, about 22 lakh people in 16 coastal districts were evacuated from their homes and taken to 5,670 permanent and temporary cyclone shelters.
The state minister yesterday said officials would begin evacuation whenever the Met office issued a warning.
Shah Kamal, the secretary of the ministry, said, "We requested the Red Crescent to provide us with masks for the people who would go to the shelters."
SCHOOL, COLLEGE BUILDINGS NOT ENOUGH
The government should consider using all concrete structures in the region as shelters in order to make social distancing possible.
"Only the educational institutions will not be enough," said Mahmudul Islam, coordinator of Disaster Management Education Research and Training Network.
Prof AKM Shamsuzzaman, director at the National Institute of Laboratory Medicine and Referral Centre, said there were "very high" risks of a spread of the coronavirus during the evacuation from homes and at the shelters.
"We are asking everyone to maintain physical distancing. It must be maintained during the evacuation and at the shelter centres," he told The Daily Star.
The shelters must have masks, sanitisers, and proper hand washing facilities with soap for everyone, he said, adding that the coronavirus rules should be clearly communicated to the people.
Disaster management expert Gawher Nayeem Wahra said the government usually issued evacuation orders 36 to 48 hours before a landfall.
"But this time, the orders should not be issued any more than 10 hours in advance. To make that happen, the met office must observe the situation very carefully," he said.
Also, the areas that will be hit by the cyclone have to be precisely identified. For example, if the cyclone is likely to hit Satkhira and Bagerhat, evacuation orders should not be issued in Cox's Bazar, he added.
"We have seen such misplaced orders in the past," said Nayeem, member secretary of the Disaster Forum.
The risks of a potential super-spreading shelter will be reduced if the people's stay at the shelters are shortened and there are fewer people at the shelters.
He also added that the government should not distribute snacks at the shelters.
"Food distribution is tricky and often creates a lot of troubles that are not desired during this pandemic," he said, adding that people stay at the shelters for no longer than a few hours, and the dry food they bring from home would be enough.
The deep depression over south-east of the Bay of Bengal that has intensified into a cyclone named Amphan on Saturday is likely to intensify and move to the coast.
In a cyclone bulletin issued last night, the Department of Meteorology asked all maritime ports including Chattogram, Cox's Bazar, Mongla and Payra to hoist local warning flag number four, meaning the ports were threatened by a storm with a wind speed of 51-61 km/hour, but the threat is not enough to justify extreme precautionary measures.
The Met office also asked all fishing boats and trawlers to remain close to the coast.