'This not so “normal” sight was witnessed due to the 10-day government holiday declared on Monday, starting from March 26 till April 4'
It was 3pm on a Thursday afternoon. However, this day was unlike any other for the country’s capital, Dhaka.
The streets of Dhaka, which on a “normal” Thursday remains crowded and cramped with hundreds and thousands of people, vehicles and rickshaws, as it is the last working day of the week, were forced to become empty, like a desert.
This not so “normal” sight was witnessed due to the 10-day government holiday declared on Monday, starting from March 26 till April 4, in bid to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Due to which, both the private and public sectors, except emergency services, came to a temporary halt. But banks, with a curtailed operational schedule, were allowed to stay open to facilitate the financial transaction for their clients.
This resulted in scores of city dwellers leaving Dhaka for their ancestral homes, defying the government’s call for no movement. The mass exodus has raised concerns about the further spread of the virus through people travelling out of Dhaka.
Moreover, authorities concerned on Tuesday suspended all modes of internal transportation – rail, road, air, and waterways – in order to control the spread of Covid-19.
All of this has practically disconnected one of the busiest capitals of the world from the rest of Bangladesh and vice versa.
In order the observe the ongoing situation, this correspondent spent around an hour or so on the Mirpur road, one of the busiest roads of Dhaka, and only saw a handful of paddle rickshaws, with very few CNG auto-rickshaws, private cars, and covered vans plying for emergency purposes only.
Haris Mia, a CNG auto-rickshaw driver, said he had to come out to earn so that he could feed his family despite the ban on public transport.
He said: “I was stopped by the police thrice in the last five hours asking me why I was out. I had to convince them that I needed money to feed my family.”
While talking with some rickshaw pullers, the correspondent found that they were forced to come out on the streets in search of passengers as this is their only source of income, and they had to feed their kids and pay the necessary bills as it is almost the end of the month.
Patrol cars of the armed forces and police were also seen ensuring that public gatherings are avoided and social distancing is maintained.
A similar picture could be seen in the other parts of the city as well, including Gandaria, Panthapath, Shahbagh, Uttara, Kamalapur Railway Station, and Sadarghat launch terminal.
Hardly anyone was seen outside of their homes buying groceries, medicines, and other essential commodities as Dhaka came to a standstill.
Police baton-charges to keep people indoors
Meanwhile, various social media users across the country, including those of Dhaka, shared photos and videos of police charging batons on people regardless of their cause for being out on the streets amid the virtual countrywide lockdown.
This created a mixed bag of reactions among the common people as some claimed that this is the right way to deal with those who are not following quarantine rules, whereas others protested such activities of the police saying that actions like these violate basic human rights.
In Dhaka’s Shukrabad, two people were beaten by the patrolling police members as they were outside for some urgent work.
According to witnesses, the police there also rushed inside a mobile recharge and repair shop and charged baton on the shop owner forcing him to close the shop.
A Facebook user, Naim, pseudo name, shared a post claiming that people who were outside without any specific reasons were beaten by the police in Netrokona, Durgapur.
DBC News, in a video clip published on their verified Facebook page, showed that police were charging batons on people who were found outside in Tangail.
In Barguna, police conducted drives to restrict all kinds of gatherings and charged batons to get people off the streets and back inside the home in order to stem the spread of novel Covid-19.
People stuck in Dhaka, emergency passengers suffering
A number of people who came to Dhaka for various reasons are now stuck here amid the travel restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus spread.
Moreover, the residents of the capital who were outside for emergency purposes also suffered from a lack of public transport as they are unable to return home.
Masud Rana, a member of the armed forces, who had come to Dhaka from Bagura for of his mother-in-law’s medical treatment, is now stuck in Dhaka amid the transport ban.
He said: “We don’t know how we would go home in this situation. It is too expensive to rent an ambulance from Dhaka to Bagura.”
Sazzadul Alam, a resident of Dhaka, had come to Dhanmondi’s Deen Mohammad Eye Hospital and Research Centre with his mother as she had to get a glaucoma surgery.
“I had to wait for a long time to find a CNG while coming from Moghbazar as my mother is sick and unable to ride paddle rickshaws.
He also said that he is in support of the public transport ban to fight coronavirus but suggested for a higher number of ambulances to be in operation.