Thousands of migrant workers are fleeing the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, to escape an imminent lockdown and an increase in Covid-19 cases linked to the type of delta that threatens to overwhelm health systems.
The authorities are imposing restrictions, including a ban on public transport from Monday, ahead of a “complete” seven-day nationwide lockdown from Thursday that will ban all but essential activities. Security forces will be deployed to enforce the rules.
The wave of infections fueled by the Delta version has caused havoc in South Asia ever since broke out in India في this year. The latest surge is believed to have seeped into Bangladesh through the neighbours’ vast land borders.
Bangladesh reports more than 5,000 cases a day, and on Sunday recorded its highest official Covid-19 death toll of 119. The national test positivity rate was 22 percent, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
But experts are skeptical of the official numbers, which they say fail to determine the full extent of the troop surge. Public health experts warn that neglected health systems across parts of the country – including border areas and poor rural areas – are already overwhelmed.
“Not all district hospitals have ICUs,” said Moshtak Chowdhury, organizer of civil society group Bangladesh Health Watch and professor of public health at Columbia University, forcing patients to travel long distances for treatment. “There is an excess of people seeking acceptance…there is tremendous pressure.”
While Bangladesh has imposed other lockdowns, Chowdhury said they have not been effectively implemented.
“There is no choice [this time]. We have to implement this very rigorously and enforce it if we are to contain the disease, which is getting worse. “
India faced a catastrophic wave of Covid-19 infections in April and May linked to the delta variant, sparking the country’s worst crisis in decades as it flooded health systems in both rural and urban areas. While cases have fallen rapidly, India is still recording around 50,000 new infections per day.
Nepal was too fell into a crisis By increasing the number of cases with the return of immigrants from India.
Bangladesh’s National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 warned last week that health systems were at grave risk without strict measures to stem transmission.
Complicating matters is the slow vaccination campaign in Bangladesh, where only about 3 percent of the population has been fully immunized. The country was initially dependent on the Indian-made Oxford/AstraZeneca, and had to find alternatives after its neighbor stopped exporting the shots.
Bangladesh is now buying vaccines from China and Russia, as well as through the World Health Organization’s Covax programme.
But the prospect of severe lockdown restrictions in a country where millions live in poverty has raised concerns about the potentially dire economic and humanitarian consequences.
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Migrant workers crowded over the weekend to ferry terminals in Dhaka – one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas with more than 20 million people – to return to their rural homes and avoid falling into the city without jobs. Choudary said this exodus could turn into a “super spreader” event if workers carry the virus.
“I’m going home. What are we going to do during this lockdown? I’d better starve with my family in the village,” Mohamed Masoum, a migrant worker, told AFP while waiting for the ferry.