‘Lockdown’ exists only on paper
The ongoing restrictions to curb the Covid-19 surge across the country are showing signs of failure everywhere.
People in large numbers are coming out on the streets to buy commodities from shops or to have refreshments at tea-stalls in their neighbourhoods. They are going to workplaces by rickshaws and other modes of transport.
In the capital, one can see almost the same old picture: large-scale movement of people, moderate traffic congestions, public gatherings at kitchen markets and even demonstrations, this time by traders and shop owners.
Barring some shopping arcades and long-route transport services, the ambience outside hardly gives any indication that the weeklong restrictions are in place to check the rapid spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Such half-hearted enforcement of restrictions has raised questions about their effectiveness with experts apprehending that such relaxed measures will not yield the desired results.
They pointed out that some restrictions, laid out in the government's 11-point directive, were not rational while some are contradictory.
And a lack of coordination and community engagement and the absence of supportive measures for the possible sufferers due to the restrictions have made it difficult to implement most of the measures, they added.
The dismal picture of implementation of the restrictions comes at a time when the country is witnessing an alarming surge in Covid infections and deaths.
Yesterday, the country saw 7,626 Covid infections, the highest in a single day. The total number of cases now stands at 659,278.
Sixty-three people died from the virus in 24 hours till 8:00am, taking the death toll to 9,447, said the Directorate General of Health Services.
Talking to The Daily Star, Prof Liaquat Ali, a biomedical scientist, said, "To curb the surge in Covid infections, the government should have made realistic and scientific interventions that are implementable."
Many of the measures taken by the government are not implementable while some are contradictory and based on assumptions, he pointed out.
The restrictions could not be implemented due to a lack of coordination, community engagement and supports for the possible sufferers, he noted.
"It was not a well-thought-out plan. This will not bring the desired outcome," said Prof Liaquat, one of eight members of the government-formed expert committee to supervise, monitor and support the Covid-19 response.
The government should have considered public health interventions much earlier but this was not given due importance, he said.
Now the government is thinking about it while hospitals are struggling to cope with a huge rush of patients, Prof Liaquat added.
On Sunday, the Cabinet Division issued an 11-point directive to be followed from 6:00am Monday to 12:00am on April 11 to contain the spread of the virus in the country. Punitive actions will be taken against violators of the directives.
However, the restrictions are not applicable to offices, employees and transports involved in maintaining law and order, relief distribution, emergency and health services, electricity, water and gas supply, fire service, port activities, and telephone and internet services.
Banks will operate from 10:00am to 12:30pm. Public, private and autonomous offices can facilitate commute of their employees to workplaces, using their own transport on a limited scale. Industrial units and factories can do the same for their workers. Construction works will go on. Ekushey Boi Mela will also continue from noon to 5:00pm every day.
Yesterday, bus operators resumed services in all 11 cities across the country after a two-day pause.
The authorities on Tuesday issued a circular allowing public transport services in the cities from 6:00am to 6:00pm. Many buses in the capital, however, were seen operating even after the stipulated time.
Vehicles, except for the ride-sharing motorbikes, resumed operation in the capital yesterday.
About bus services in cities, Prof Nazrul Islam, a noted virologist, said the health safety guidelines and the policy of 50 percent seat vacancy must be implemented, and the government can arrange more buses to make it happen.
The authorities should immediately carry out sample surveys in the areas with high infection rates and isolate the infected persons, said Prof Nazrul, also a member of the government's National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
He further said the government, if necessary, can deploy army personnel to ensure enforcement of the health safety guidelines.
Motorcyclists providing ride-sharing services staged demonstrations in different parts of the capital, demanding that the government allow them to continue their services during the weeklong restrictions.
Some of them blocked the road in front of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Headquarters to press home their demands.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority put restrictions on ride-sharing motorcycles from Monday to help curb the spread of the virus.
In the capital's Gulistan, Bangabazar and Phulbaria areas, shop owners and employees protested the government restrictions on running businesses.
"Why our shops have to be kept shut when everything else is open? Even the city bus services have resumed. What is our fault?" asked Abdul Mannan, president of City Plaza Shop Owners Association.
"We could not recoup the losses we suffered during the shutdown imposed by the government last year. If we cannot do business during this peak season, we will be ruined," Mannan, also owner of an apparel shop, told The Daily Star.
The shop owners and employees, who had demonstrated in the capital's New Market and nearby areas for three consecutive days since Sunday, did not hold any protest programmes yesterday following the filing of two cases on Tuesday afternoon over the demonstrations.
Meanwhile, operators of private airlines have urged the government to let them run domestic flights.
Mofizur Rahman, managing director of Novo Air, said, "Air transport is considered the safest mode of passenger transport in terms of risks of virus transmission.
"It's unfortunate that air communication remains suspended during the restrictions though the government has allowed resumption of road transport services on a limited scale," he told this newspaper.