At a time when the country has begun to see a decline in Covid-19 infections and deaths, the government decision to reopen shops and malls can jeopardise all its efforts to fight the virus and worsen the situation, experts warned.
"We've just been able to put the brakes on the spike in coronavirus cases and it was leading us to a win-win situation. But now, we're moving towards a lose-lose situation," Prof Be-Nazir Ahmed, a public health expert, told The Daily Star after a notice regarding the reopening was issued yesterday.
In the notice, the government said shops and malls can reopen tomorrow maintaining health guidelines properly. The announcement came on the 10th day of the ongoing restrictions, imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
"Markets may remain open from 10:00am to 5:00pm every day from April 25," read the Cabinet Division notice, signed by Deputy Secretary Md Rezaul Islam.
Earlier, a technical expert committee on Covid-19 had suggested that the government lift the restrictions in phases after analysing the situation.
In a meeting Sunday, the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19 also had recommended extending the "lockdown" for another week, asking the government to enforce the restrictions strictly.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, experts said letting the shopping malls and shops reopen right now could aggravate the Covid-19 situation, considering that a huge number of people might throng those for Eid shopping.
If the infection rate goes up once again after the reopening, the government, which has already faced a severe economic loss due to the Covid-19-led closures, will ultimately face dire consequences, the experts warned.
Soon after the announcement yesterday, road transport leaders requested the authorities to allow them to resume operations of buses and minibuses.
Khondaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said they want to operate buses once the ongoing "lockdown" would end on April 28.
"We have already talked with the authorities concerned, but no decision has been taken yet," he told The Daily Star.
As the country passed the 10th day of restrictions, both the number of deaths and infections reported came down. Eighty-eight deaths from Covid-19 and 3,629 new cases were recorded yesterday.
On April 16, the positivity rate was 23 percent. After that, the rate has been falling gradually and yesterday it was 14 percent.
Prof Be-Nazir, also a former director of the disease control department of the health ministry, said the country has just started reaping the benefits of the "lockdown", but things may reverse after the reopening of the malls and shops.
"The Covid-19 cases may shoot up," he warned.
According to him, three parties -- businessmen, shoppers and the government -- will be the "losers" due to the decision.
"Businessmen will invest money, but I'm afraid that not many people will show up for shopping given the current Covid situation. So, they will face losses," he said, adding that many shoppers may be infected and die as the malls could turn into "Covid-19 hotspots".
"Those who have walked down the unscientific path and chose illogical methods have been the ultimate sufferers," he said, pointing at the recent rise in Covid-19 cases amid the elections in India's West Bengal.
Talking on the issue, health experts asked how health guidelines could be followed if people in droves go shopping.
The decision of reopening of shopping malls has meanwhile also puzzled law enforcers, who have been stationed on roads to check public movement amid the ongoing restrictions.
Wishing to remain unnamed, an on-duty police officer in Wari said public movement would increase after the reopening of the malls. "What will we do then? We're yet to get any directives from our high-ups," he said.
Additional Police Commissioner (Traffic) Munibur Rahman told The Daily Star that they were yet to get any directives in this regard. "We'll take measures accordingly once we get new directives," he said.
Currently, people who need to go out must carry a "movement pass" from the police. Those from several professions, including health workers, journalists, and other emergency workers, however, do not require the pass.
Talking to The Daily Star, Dr Dewan Aminul Islam Shahin, president of Dhaka New Market Business Association, said they had already started asking traders to wear masks and ensure that everyone visiting their shops sanitise hands and wash them with soap.
There will be other protections and no one will be allowed in the market without masks. "Announcements will be made time and again reminding customers to maintain health rules," he said.
Aminul, however, said, "There are over 3,000 businessmen and staffers working at the market. There will be another 5,000 to 6,000 customers on the market premises. There will be a huge crowd after 5:00pm when they will start leaving market altogether," he said.
"If the duration of the time limit is relaxed, people will be able to shop maintaining distance and health guideline properly," he said.
During this time of the year, people from all over the country flock the capital's Urdu Road, where a huge number of wholesale markets of readymade garments are situated.
MH Mostofa, general secretary, Urdu Road Avvontorin Garments Businessmen Association, said they have already directed the respective associations of all 27 markets in the area to follow the health guidelines and not to let retailers make any crowd.
"It's already late. But we're happy that the government has allowed us to open the markets," he said adding it will be difficult for retailers to come from distant districts if the restriction on the transport is not lifted.
The novel coronavirus situation started deteriorating in March. Against this backdrop, the government imposed restrictions on public movement from April 5 to April 13.
Two days later, they allowed resumption of inter-city bus services and four days later shopping malls and markets were allowed to reopen, defying health experts' recommendations on enforcing a strict lockdown.
During those days of lax restrictions, the Covid-19 positivity rate, DGHS data shows, had started crawling up. On April 09, it shot up to 24 percent.
The government then imposed a "stricter lockdown" across the country and introduced the "movement pass" on April 14 for eight days. It extended the lockdown to April 28 later.
Initially, all public and private offices were closed and public transport remained suspended. Emergency services, factories, and a few branches of banks, however, continued their operations.
Later, financial institutions and account officers at field levels were allowed to start operations on limited scale from Thursday.
And a day later, yesterday, the government issued the notice, allowing businessmen to open markets and shopping malls.
88 MORE DIE
With yesterday's 88 deaths, the Covid-19 death toll in the country reached 10,869. The death rate stood at 1.47 percent, reads a press release issued by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
A total of 25,896 samples were tested across the country in 24 hours (till 8:00am yesterday). The total number of people infected jumped to 7,39,703, said the release.
The current positivity rate is 14 percent while the total positivity rate stands at 13.95 percent.
At least 5,225 Covid-19 patients have recovered during the 24-hour period, added the release.