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Covid-19 at border: Movement restrictions needed, not lockdown

  • Published at 04:44 pm May 30th, 2021
Benapole Petrapole border India Bangladesh
File photo of The Benapole-Petrapole border gate dividing Bangladesh and India Dhaka Tribune

Authorities should provide masks, aid to those who cannot stop working, say experts

Strict restrictions on movement are needed to contain Covid-19 transmission in border districts where the infection rate is surging, but a curfew-style total lockdown is not the answer, health experts say.

However, infection rate has come down to half in the last five days of lockdown in the border district of Chapainawabganj.

Mushtaq Hossain, an adviser to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told Dhaka Tribune: “The Covid-19 situation may get out of control if the authorities do not take feasible and practical measures [to enforce health guidelines] and the people in those [border] areas do not cooperate.

“The good news is that the infection rate went up slowly, not rapidly, in most districts after Eid-ul-Fitr. It is time to impose strict movement restrictions in the districts where the infection rate went up dramatically in the last one week.”

There are too many downsides to a curfew-style total lockdown, he observes. “Too many people need to keep working every day to feed their families.”

He recommended that people who have no option other than to work be exempted from movement restrictions, and that the government provided them with masks and living arrangements, when necessary.

Meanwhile, an expert panel formed by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has recommended putting eight districts on Bangladesh’s border with India under strict lockdown to bring the Covid-19 transmission under control.

The districts are Chapainawabganj, Naogaon, Natore, Satkhira, Jessore, Rajshahi, Kushtia, and Khulna.

Infection rates high in Rajshahi border districts

DGHS Director (Management Information Systems) Prof Mizanur Rahman told Dhaka Tribune that the border districts in Rajshahi division were showing particularly high infection rates.

Chapainawabganj, one of the border districts in Rajshahi division, has been under lockdown since May 24, when the infection rate skyrocketed past 50%.

The infection rate was 62% on Wednesday but it dropped to 34% yesterday, according to Chapainawabganj Civil Surgeon Zahid Nazrul.

“We have not received any orders from the higher authorities to extend the lockdown yet, but we are trying our best to ensure that people follow the health guidelines,” he said.

IEDCR Adviser Mushtaq Hossain told Dhaka Tribune that the higher infection rates in Rajshahi might be attributed to an increase in face-to-face retail transactions due to the mango season.

“A strict lockdown will be a heavy blow to the people involved in the business,” he said, suggesting that those involved in the business be given necessary support at the marketplace and the mango orchards.

“The government can provide masks, monitor to ensure that they are maintaining social distance at work, and ensure hand washing facilities at the market and the sites where they need to go for work,” he added.

‘Involve the community’

Dr Senjuti Saha, a microbiologist working at the Child Health Research Foundation in Bangladesh, observes that hard lockdowns are a temporary solution and it is very difficult to implement properly in remote areas such as the border districts of Bangladesh.

She recommended involving the community in such districts to encourage people to wear masks and not to form crowds.

“The way the infection rate is increasing worries me a lot.  Policing is not going to work in the long run. People in [border] areas need to understand that they are protecting themselves by following the guidelines and that is where the community leaders and influencers can intervene,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

Virologist Dr Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, emphasized that many people must keep working every day to avoid starvation.

“They have to go to work every day to put food on the table. If the situation gets worse, the government must impose a hard lockdown. If that is what must be done, these people must be provided with their basic needs,” he added.

He also said that the trucks which carry essential items from the border districts to different parts of the country including Dhaka needed to be disinfected, and the drivers quarantined after completing their trips.  

Thakurgaon, a northern district in Rangpur division, has been seeing a downward trend.

Civil Surgeon Marufur Rahman said: “Unlike Chapainawabganj, the infection rate has gone down in May compared to April. The infection rate was 14.8% in April and came down to 10% in May.” 

Recent figures from the World Health Organization show a significant rise in coronavirus infections in districts that share borders with or are close to India.

Restrictions until infection rate drops below 5%

State Minister of Public Administration Forhad Hossain said that they would take a decision on ending the ongoing restrictions only after the infection rate dropped below 5%.

The minister was speaking to the media after attending a cabinet meeting, where the government decided to extend the countrywide restrictions for seven more days.

He added that the government was paying special attention to the situation in the bordering districts.

Quoting experts, the minister said: “We want to impose lockdowns in the areas where the infection rate is very high. We want to restrict specific areas, so that everyone's livelihood is not affected.”

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