The government has decided to impose a countrywide "lockdown" for a week from tomorrow in a desperate bid to contain the rising number of new cases of Covid-19 and deaths from it.
"Coronavirus is spreading rapidly. Infection and death are jumping up. In the given situation, Sheikh Hasina's government has decided to impose a one-week lockdown across the country from Monday," Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said yesterday.
Production facilities might be allowed to remain operational on certain conditions, he told a briefing from his official residence.
According to Quader, also the Awami League general secretary, the public administration ministry was to issue a circular detailing the new restrictions by yesterday evening. But it wasn't issued until late last night.
State Minister for Public Administration Forhad Hossain also commented about the possibility of a "lockdown" and said organisations providing emergency services will not be restricted.
Employees will work in shifts and follow the health guidelines in the industries, he told reporters.
The move came as the Covid-19 positivity rate reached 23.15 percent yesterday. The average positivity rate was less than 3 percent in February.
Besides, the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19 last week recommended "partial or modified" lockdown in "high-risk" areas. The government issued an 18-point directive, including restrictions on offices and public transport.
Covid-19 cases began to rise again from March 9.
On August 3 last year, the positivity rate was 31.91 percent, the highest seen in the country. The number of daily cases remained high between May and August last year, and stayed low in September and October.
There was a little spike in November and the first half of December. Confirmed cases fell below 1,000 on December 26 and the trend continued until the first week of March.
The government shut down public and private offices and suspended public transport operations from March 26-May 30 last year. The authorities later imposed restrictions on specific areas with high infection rates.
But the shutdown was not properly implemented, especially during the Eid festivals when tens of thousands people left Dhaka for their village homes. Besides, the garment factories were allowed to operate.
Labourers and low-income people were forced to come outdoors to earn a living.
After the announcements yesterday, people rushed to the bus and launch terminals in the capital to leave for their hometown. Many people said the one-week restriction was likely to be extended later.
People also rushed to kitchen markets and grocery stores to stock up on the essentials.
Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan yesterday said train services will be suspended "once the lockdown is imposed". However, there will be no restrictions on freight trains.
The authorities have cancelled exams and shut down tourist destinations like Cox's Bazar and the Sundarbans.
Besides, Boisabi Utsab, the biggest traditional festival of the indigenous communities of the hill tracks, has been cancelled, reports UNB.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh yesterday suspended all domestic flights from tomorrow.
Sources said the Cabinet Division sent a proposal to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recommending a ban or limit on public movement and other activities.
It said the law enforcers should strictly enforce travel restrictions between districts while the general public would not be allowed outdoors between 8:00pm and 6:00am, unless there is an emergency.
Public and private offices would remain open on a limited scale, but the employees would not be allowed to leave the city where they work. Rally, mass gathering, and social programmes should be banned, it said.
Only five people would be allowed inside a mosque at a time. For Juma prayers, no more than 10 people should be allowed, it added.
Markets of daily necessaries would be moved to open spaces.
Fertiliser, insecticide, food, essential goods, medical equipment, daily essentials, kitchen markets, restaurants, drug stores, hospitals and the media would also remain out of the purview of the shutdown.
Infectious diseases specialist Prof Ridwanur Rahman said, "I would say we need a complete shutdown for two weeks as hospitals are at capacity.
"This [complete shutdown] is scientific and the best approach now. But considering livelihood, the new measure is not too bad. It will partially contribute to slowing down the transmission."
He told The Daily Star yesterday that the success would depend on how effectively the measures were implemented. "In the past, we have seen such measures exist only on papers."
NTAC member Prof Nazrul Islam said, "I do not see any scientific basis in the government decision. Be it lockdown or movement restriction, it must be for 15 days, considering the incubation period of the virus. Otherwise, those infected will spread infection after seven days."
Mushtuq Hussain, consultant of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, said, "The decisions can be revised based on its effectiveness."