In the wake of rising Covid-19 deaths and infections across the country, the government today starts enforcing containment zones on a pilot basis in some areas of four districts, including Dhaka.
The aim is to stem the spread of the virus by putting all those infected in isolation centres and conducting contact tracing effectively, said officials.
In the first phase, two areas of the capital -- Rajabazar and Wari -- would be placed in the "red zone" with severe restrictions as the city remains to be the worst hit.
Some urban areas of Narayanganj, Gazipur and Narsingdi would also be put under strict lockdown, said the officials, adding that these districts are the most affected after Dhaka.
The decision came in a high-profile meeting held at the secretariat yesterday. The meeting was attended by health, home, LGRD ministers, two mayors of Dhaka and top officials of different ministries concerned, one of the meeting participants told The Daily Star last night.
Earlier in the day, Habibur Rahman Khan, additional secretary (administration) of Health Service Division, told this daily that the containment zones would be introduced from today on a pilot basis. "If it proves to be successful, we will implement it elsewhere."
Based on the severity of infections and death rates, work on dividing the areas affected by the deadly virus into three zones -- red, yellow and green -- would go on simultaneously, said Habibur, also the chief of the health ministry's media cell
No one would be allowed to enter or exit the "red zone". There would be restrictions on people and traffic movement in the "yellow zone". The "green zone" will have no such restrictions, but no one from the "red zone" and the "yellow zone" will be allowed to enter the "green zone", he said.
He, however, did not mention the name of any areas. "We will do the zoning based on recommendations of health experts.".
Habibur said they would take help also from technology experts, city corporation mayors, councillors and police.
Asked about the issue, medical scientist and educationist Dr Liaquat Ali, a member of the eight-member government expert panel formed to supervise, monitor and support the coronavirus response, stressed the need for actively engaging community members, including local ward councillors and religious leaders, civil society members, NGOs and volunteers in the effort to make it a success.
"It can't be implemented only by issuing a government order," said Liaquat.
He said the containment zones could be implemented in rural areas as well.
The government decision came when the country is struggling to put the brakes on ever-increases coronavirus cases.
According to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), 846 people have died of Covid-19 in the country, with 35 in 24 hours till 2:30pm yesterday. With 2,635 new cases reported, the total number hit 63,026, it said.
On June 1, a high-profile government meeting, chaired by Health Minister Zahid Maleque and attended by mayors of three cities, discussed dividing the coronavirus-hit areas in the three zones.
The suggestion mainly came from health experts after the government on May 31 relaxed a coronavirus-driven nationwide shutdown, which continued since March 26. The authorities made the decision taking the country's economy and people's livelihood into consideration.
The Daily Star has obtained a set of draft recommendations forwarded to the government by the eight-member expert committee.
Upon receiving the draft, the health minister gave some suggestions. The committee is expected to submit its final report within a day or two, incorporating those suggestions, a committee member said.
As per the draft recommendations, city areas would be marked as green, yellow and red zones on the basis of the number of cases detected in a ward, its population density and people's living standards. "Specific interventions will be needed to implement the containment zones," said the member, wishing not to be named.
An area with no recorded Covid-19 case would be marked a "green zone".
A ward area with less than 40 detected cases would be put in the "yellow zone". If the area is densely populated and the living standard of most of the people is low, the number should be 30.
Any ward area will be put in the "red zone" if it has more than 40 cases. If population density is high, the number considered should be 30, according to the draft recommendation.
The committee also gave a set of recommendations on how to implement the containment zones.
It said all positive cases should be identified and put in isolation centres, which could be built in local schools, colleges and community centres. The work should be done by local health officials with support from private facilities, including NGOs.
The committee also said those to be sent to the isolation centres and their family members must be provided with food and social support. Community kitchens can be set up with physical help from community organisations and financial help from government bodies.
The committee members emphasised on carrying out an effective contact tracing of all those who have come in contact with infected persons. Anyone found to be positive through contact tracing must be sent to the isolation centres as well.
Besides, they suggested setting up sample collection booths and deploying trained sample collectors to actively identify all Covid-19 cases. Local health officials with support from private facilities will carry it out, they said.
They added that local community members must be made aware of the plan for their active engagement in the process. Written and pictorial descriptions of health and hygiene instructions must be placed in visible places according to the zones.
The committee members said people should get treatment in any case and those who are extremely poor should get free ambulance services.
Other recommendations included ensuring use of masks, hand sanitizers and social, physical distancing.