The recreational spot had reopened to visitors from May 31 amid the pandemic
One of the major outing spots of capital Dhaka, Rabindra Sarobar, an amphitheatre adjacent to the Dhanmondi Lake, still draws a huge crowd every afternoon amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Being one of the few natural places for a breath of fresh air in the concrete jungle that is Dhaka city, the place remains abuzz with visitors for several hours from afternoon till dusk.
The place is even more packed on holidays. However, what’s alarming is that most of the visitors defy the mandatory health guidelines, such as wearing masks and maintaining a minimum physical or social distance.
Rabindra Sarobar, which became deserted like many other recreational spots after the nationwide lockdown, was reopened to visitors from May 31.
Since then, the place has been witnessing a gradual rise in visitors. Visiting the place on Sunday afternoon, this correspondent found that despite a mild shower, visitors, locals, and pedestrians had thronged the area.
Reaching there, it felt as though Bangladesh was barely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some women and children sit on the amphitheatre premises at Dhaka's Dhanmondi Lake | Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
Experts have stressed time and again that the absence of mandatory health rules would always pose a threat to the spread of the deadly virus during winter and this crisis would continue.
On Sunday afternoon, this correspondent spent an hour and a half at Rabindra Sarobar. During this time she spoke to around 20 people comprising – visitors, locals, street children, and employees of food stalls.
She noticed that four out of 10 visitors (approximately) did not wear a mask. And at least one in five (again, roughly) sported their masks as chin beards.
Visitors on ‘wearing masks’
Nurun Nahar came all the way from Mirpur along with six members of her family including a child to spend some time around the open-air theatre.
She said: “Now Dhaka’s markets, public transport, offices, and businesses are all open. So why shouldn’t we come for a visit!”
When the reporter asked about the usage of masks, she replied: “I wore it while getting on the bus. Tell me how many people are wearing masks in this place now? And it is difficult for children to breathe if they wear these.”
Another visitor, Jalal Udiin, said: “I came here with my closed ones. They’re all safe so there’s nothing to be afraid of if one doesn’t wear a mask. We are constantly watching TV which shows that the effect of coronavirus has decreased in Bangladesh.”
Although Jalal carried a sanitizer in person, his mask was not covering his mouth, but rather, his chin.
One of the biggest eateries in Rabindra Sarobar is “Juice Bar and Kabab.” Visitors were found sitting on every possible table present.
Mohammad Shafiq, manager of the food stall said all the shops were closed for three months due to the lockdown. Everything has started to go back to normal since August. “Now we cannot give a place to people to sit from evening till 8pm.”
He said: “We cook by maintaining health rules. Our staff members are continuously washing hands and we’re using one-time cups and plates. People are rather annoyed by this and demand silverware and ceramic, so we arranged for both.”
Laily, one of the street children, said: “In the morning, old people and many others come for their daily walks. And they provide some masks for us. My family does not wear these, so I am selling them.”
A young group of men came to play cricket on the ground but could not due to the pouring rain.
One of them, Shariar Hridoy, said: “We also came to play cricket yesterday. I just take off the mask while playing.”
A resident of Dhanmondi, Shahin Akhter, said: “There are so many people that there is no opportunity to walk in the afternoons. And 50% of them do not wear masks. They even leave the masks around the lake and drop them on the water.”
When contacted, public health expert Dr Taufique Joarder said the absence of mandatory health rules will always pose the threat of spreading coronavirus during winter, when cold-related diseases increase automatically every year.
“It won’t be wise to think that being indoors will save us from Covid-19. Rather we have to go out to open spaces where there’s sunlight since it helps boost immunity,” the public health expert said.
“But we must make sure that all use masks and maintain a safe physical distance in order to prevent Covid-19 from spreading,”
About the food items being sold in and around Rabindra Sarobar, he said: “Those thronging there should use disposable utensils instead of the reusable ones.”
The authorities concerned, he said, have to monitor whether the health guidelines are being followed there. While the visitors, too, should be aware of the issue on their own.
Md Mizanur Rahman, regional executive officer-01 (deputy secretary) of DSCC, said: “After the nationwide lockdown, everything is continuing normally now except for the educational institutions. However, there are government guidelines and we are maintaining the no mask, no service strategy at offices.”
Mizanur also said: “Currently, gathering in parks and lakes or any recreation places is a health hazard. However, if we apply the no mask, no entry strategy here, it will have an adverse effect on their mental health and they will become anti-lockdown.”
“In such a scenario, only awareness campaigns can be useful and we are continuing that in these areas. We will take more action with order from higher authority. For now, we are doing the leaflet and miking campaign,” he added.