Ignoring the risks of further spread of Covid-19, the government has lifted the restrictions on public movement and activities from today even though the coronavirus pandemic is showing no sign of abating.
The Cabinet Division, however, reminded the authorities yesterday to make sure that people wear face coverings, maintain distances and follow other health safety guidelines when they are outdoors.
In a circular, the cabinet division directed respective ministries, divisions and other authorities to take necessary measures for implementing the safety guidelines regarding public movement and other activities.
The circular follows the expiry of the previous order that slapped several restrictions on public movement, including a complete prohibition on staying outdoors from 10:00pm-5:00am, unless there is an emergency.
The previous order, effected from August 4 ordered closure of all shops, bazaars and malls after 8:00pm and prohibited all types of meetings, rallies and mass gatherings.
But there was no mention of such restrictions in yesterday’s circular which said the local government division, information ministry, religious affairs ministry, health service division and district and upazila administrations will hold public awareness campaigns to stem the spread of the lethal virus.
Legal actions and operations of mobile courts will have to be ensured, it added.
The new decision coincides with the government move to allow the transport owners to carry passengers at capacity from today, reinstating the pre-pandemic fares.
On the other hand, Bangladesh Railway will start selling tickets for all local, mail and commuter trains at the stations from September 5 in a bid to normalise its service.
Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) is, meanwhile, considering whether to allow ride-hailing services to use the motorcycle soon. Currently, only those cars that are registered with the government to provide ride-hailing services are allowed to operate.
The moves come at a time when the number of new infections and deaths from Covid-19 are showing no signs of falling. Public health experts fear that the full-fledged operation of public transport might worsen the Covid-19 situation.
Thirty-three people were reported dead from Covid-19 in the country yesterday, taking the death toll to 4,281. The overall positivity rate stood at 20.19 percent, which is much higher than the global average.
The positivity rate was 24.98 percent on August 1 while it was 17.46 yesterday. and the rate has been hovering over 15 to 18 percent in the last few days.
After around three months, life in the capital and other major cities got back to normalcy. Traffic jams returned on Dhaka streets amid the old cacophony of cars honking and jingling of rickshaw bells as workers returned to their jobs after months of restrictions that have battered the economy.
But there has been a growing unwillingness among the people to follow the hygiene rules, which gives an impression that everything has returned to normalcy.
“Bangladesh is still among the countries where transmission rate is high,” said Prof Muzaherul Huq, a former adviser of World Health Organization’s South East Asia region.
“So, lifting restrictions from public transport is risky as transmission has not come under control in Bangladesh,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
It cannot be said the Covid-19 situation has come under control until the positivity rate comes below 10 percent. But, the positivity rate in Bangladesh is still above 20 percent, he added.
“Therefore, the health safety guidelines, particularly the physical distancing, applied for public transport should not be relaxed right now,” he said, adding, “If the physical distancing is relaxed in public transport, virus transmission would definitely increase.
“Moreover, the temporary trend of decline in positivity rate would stumble…”
As it is, when many bus operators are not following the government’s directives to keep 50 seats vacant and to follow health safety guidelines.
Since the decisions have been made, the government should now ensure all health safety guidelines, especially the wearing of masks and the use of hand sanitisers, are abided by all. Legal actions have to be taken if anyone violates the guidelines, he added.
BUSES TO OPERATE AT CAPACITY
Public transport services, including buses and minibuses, resumed on June 1 after more than two months of suspension.
Following demands made by transport leaders, the government hiked bus fares by 60 percent from June 1 on some conditions. But complaints on the breach of the conditions kept pouring in.
The bus owners on August 16 wrote to the Road Transport and Bridges Ministry and the BRTA to let them operate their vehicles at capacity, charging the previous fares.
The ministry on August 29 decided to reinstate the previous fares following the Cabinet Division’s approval. Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader gave the announcement the same day.
Now, the authorities have set some conditions to operate bus services.
The conditions included — no transport would be allowed to carry passengers beyond its seating capacity, all passengers, drivers, bus staffers have to wear masks; the transport companies must have hand sanitisers and other hand washing essentials, buses have to be disinfected before and after each trip.
BRTA Chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder said their magistrates will conduct mobile courts in Dhaka and Chattogram to take punitive actions against the violators of the conditions.
“I also sent letters to all DCs so that their magistrates also conduct mobile courts in their districts. I personally talked with all divisional commissioners in this regard,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Besides, letters were also sent to the police headquarters, commissioners of metropolitan cities and SPs to intensify their vigil so that no one can violate the guidelines.
“I have also talked with the leaders of transport owners… We will strictly implement the law to ensure proper implementation of the health safety guidelines.”