The country will be put under a strict lockdown for a week from April 14, the government announced yesterday amid a worsening coronavirus situation as the ongoing restrictions have apparently proved to be ineffective in containing the spread of the virus.
Except for emergency services, all government and private offices and factories will remain closed during the lockdown. Public transport services will also stay suspended, State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain told The Daily Star.
"We had no other option but this, given the rapid transmission of Covid-19. During this period, people will be made to stay at home at any cost," he said.
The state minister also said the government has made all-out preparations to enforce the lockdown following the directives of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and suggestions from experts.
Army will not be deployed, he said, adding that a gazette notification in this regard will be issued soon.
Earlier in the morning, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said the government was actively considering imposing an "all-out lockdown" for one week from April 14.
The lockdown will come into effect on the first day of Bangla calendar -- Pahela Baishakh -- and three days after the end of the ongoing seven-day restrictions, which began on April 5.
Public health experts have been pitching for strict enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions as they raised questions about the effectiveness of a half-hearted enforcement to tackle the worsening coronavirus situation in the country.
They said relaxed measures like gradual resumption of the operation of public transport and reopening of shopping malls would not yield the desired results, and it would rather push the country towards a greater risk.
They also came down hard on the government's response to the resurgence of the disease, saying that it did not make decisions in a planned way.
"The ongoing restriction was unplanned and that's why the government had to backtrack on its decisions repeatedly. The restriction failed to contain the transmission as we are experiencing a surge in cases," said Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
"What we wanted to achieve through the restrictions was not fixed. As goals were not fixed, we achieved nothing. We had time but did not make any preparation for enforcing a lockdown," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
"It was a total mess," he added.
The decision of imposing a strict lockdown came a day after the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) for Covid-19 recommended at least a two-week complete lockdown, especially in city corporations and municipality areas, to curb the spread of the virus.
In a meeting on Wednesday night chaired by committee Chairman Prof Mohammad Sahidullah, the body suggested that the decision could be reviewed considering the infection rate before the end of the two weeks, according to a press release.
"As the restriction is not being followed properly, the rate of infection is increasing. Restrictions need to be followed strictly," said the press release.
On Wednesday, the DGHS sent a letter to the Prime Minister's Office, urging it for the enforcement of stricter restrictions like "curfew" as they fear restrictions were simply inadequate to tackle the situation.
After a steady decrease in cases, hospitalisations and deaths for the first two consecutive months this year, the Covid-19 reemerged with mutant strains in the second week of March.
The situation has continued to deteriorate since. The government reported 63 more deaths and 7,462 new infections in 24 hours ending at 8:00am yesterday.
Following the alarming increase in cases, the Cabinet Division on April 4 issued a circular with some 11 directives and imposed the seven-day restriction on public movement expiring on April 11.
Three days later, the government relaxed restrictions on the movement of public transport and allowed inter-city buses to ply roads of eleven cities of the country.
Then yesterday, the government allowed shops and malls to open for eight hours every day till April 13.
As a result, shoppers flocked to different markets and shopping centres in the capital yesterday with many customers and traders defying the health guidelines. No physical distancing was maintained though most of them were wearing masks.
Speaking about the matter, Prof Iqbal Arsalan, a member of the NTAC, said, "We need lockdown immediately to prevent further transmission."
"It should be a complete lockdown and effective for two weeks. Otherwise, it would not give any result," said Arsalan, also president of Swadhinata Chikitsak Parishad, a pro-Awami League doctors' organisation.
News about a strict lockdown first came from Obaidul Quader yesterday morning.
"Coronavirus situation in the country has taken a terrible turn, the infection and death rates are rising rapidly," he said at a briefing at his residence in the capital.
Public negligence and indifference towards the Covid-19 situation have not changed during the weeklong restrictions, Quader added.
Contacted, Senior Secretary Shaikh Yusuf Harun of the public administration ministry said he heard about such a decision, but did not get any official order yet.
The issue of the lockdown will be discussed at tomorrow's meeting of ministers and senior secretaries, he added.