People are heading home for Eid in droves.
Despite the pandemic, the subsequent restrictions on movement, officials made to stay at their work stations, and suspension of inter-district public transport, people in their thousands left for their village homes yesterday.
They left the cities on private and small vehicles, ignoring the prime minister's request to celebrate Eid at where they are to help check the spread of Covid-19.
The authorities even halted operations of two ferry services on the Padma early yesterday but the surge of people defying health safety guidelines could not be stopped.
They waited for hours under the scorching sun at the ferry terminals and on roads, took detours, changed vehicles multiple times, and many even walked long distances to get home.
Even the ferries had to be run in the face of the rush yesterday.
This happened the very day Bangladeshis came to know that the highly contagious Indian variant of Covid-19 is already here.
Health experts said the Covid situation in Bangladesh could worsen due to the increased public movement centring Eid. They had warned that the situation could turn dangerous once the India variant made its way here.
Meanwhile, road transport leaders yesterday placed a five-point demand including the resumption of long-haul bus service at half capacity. They also threatened to wage a movement if their demands were not met.
MAD RUSH CONTINUES
Like Friday, people heading home yesterday thronged the capital's inter-district bus terminals in Gabtoli and Sayedabad.
Getting no transport at Gabtoli, many went to Amin Bazar on foot or on auto-rickshaws to take a bus and other transport from there.
They then went to Paturia ferry terminal in Manikganj or to Chandra in Gazipur by bus to avail other transport that would take them closer to their homes in the north and south of the country.
Google map showed a redline, indicating traffic at standstill, at the capital's western exit – from Amin Bazar to Hemayetpur – through which thousands left yesterday.
One of our correspondents visited Amin Bazar around 11:00pm and saw hundreds of people waiting for vehicles. Ambulances were seen asking passengers Tk 1,500 for a trip to Rangpur.
Many, who could afford it, rented vehicles to leave the city. Others changed vehicles multiple times to go to their destinations.
Showing indifference to physical distancing, transport workers were charging extra taking advantage of the people's desperation.
Talking to this newspaper, many passengers said they were being charged almost double the usual fares.
Yesterday, the fare was higher than that of the previous days. For every route, transport workers were asking Tk 100-300 more.
From Amin Bazar, buses were asking Tk 300 fare for a trip to Paturia or Chandra. A car heading for Paturia was asking for Tk 600-700 per passenger.
People of the low-income group were seen getting on smaller vehicles like human haulier and auto-rickshaws to reach the ferry terminals. Some even got on trucks and pick-ups.
The situation on the Dhaka-Chattogram and Dhaka-Sylhet highways was similar, our correspondents report.
Microbuses with 10-12 people in them were seen leaving for Chattogram, Cumilla, and Chandpur and policemen nearby took no action.
Even long-haul buses were seen on the Dhaka-Tangail highway. The highway police fined 34 buses until yesterday's morning, Yasir Arafat, in-charge of Elenga Highway Police Outpost, told our Tangail correspondent.
Sources also said about 25,000 vehicles, including 13,000 private vehicles, crossed the Bangabandhu Bridge between Friday and 6:00am Saturday.
Sirajganj police stopped around 150-200 long-haul buses carrying passengers from Dhaka.
SUFFERING FOR FERRIES
Ferry services on the Paturia-Daulatdia and Shimulia-Kathalbaria routes, gateways to the 21 south and southwestern districts of the country, had been suspended since early yesterday to control the rush.
As the decision was made late at night, many were unaware. They realised it when they reached the terminals. A huge crowd formed.
Heading back was not an option for many as they did not have the money for it. People, including women and children, were seen waiting in the terminal areas in the sweltering heat.
Finding no option, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) authorities allowed some ferries to run and carry the thousands of people, ambulances, and hearses across.
Ahmed Ali, BIWTC's marine manager at Shimulia, said three ferries – Kunjalata, Enayetpuri and Shah Poran – carried more than 10,000 people and 13 ambulances and hearses.
Two more ferries departed later.
Police put a barricade 4kms ahead of Shimulia early yesterday to stop vehicles but people walked the 4km to the terminal.
Many got hurt as the crowd tried to get into the ferries.
Jalal Uddin said, "I am fasting. I stood for four hours in the sun. I am sick. Now I am resting in the shade of a truck. I will spend the joy of Eid with my family in Madaripur. For this, I came from Jatrabari at 5:00am in a CNG [auto rickshaw]."
The situation at the Paturia terminal was almost the same.
At one stage, the angry passengers boarded the ferry "Madhobilata" and forced the BIWTC authorities to operate it around 10:00am.
After that, two others ferries left the terminal around 12:15pm.
The angry passengers also chased local journalists in the terminal area from where they were broadcasting live.
Zillur Rahman, deputy general manager (commerce) of BIWTC at Aricha, said they were forced to run some ferries following pressure from passengers.
Deputy Commissioner SM Ferdous of Manikganj yesterday said three teams of BGB would be deployed to enforce the restrictions on movement. One team would be at Paturia, one at the entrance to the district and the other at Barbaria.
The Munshiganj DC said two teams of BGB would be deployed in his district.
Shahjahan Khan, president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, yesterday placed a five-point demand, including the resumption of long-haul buses.
The federation along with Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association (BRTOA) and Bangladesh Bus-Truck Owners' Association made the demands during a press briefing at the Jatiya Press Club.
Their other demands include giving financial and food aid to workers who lost jobs during the lockdown and allocating Tk 5,000 crore stimulus package -- at low-interest rates -- to transport owners to ensure workers' salaries and Eid bonuses.
Responding to a question, Shahjahan, also an Awami League lawmaker, said the "lockdown-related experts" do not understand the ground reality.
"They don't understand the sentiments of workers. That's why people are crowding on the ferries. The workers are being left without food…We are experts in this field. The government should seek advice from us, not the experts," Shahjahan said.
Our correspondents in Tangail, Manikganj and Munshiganj contributed the report.