Bangladesh on Tuesday surpassed the 70,000 mark in coronavirus cases detected on its soil, as it set daily records in newly confirmed cases and deaths linked to the disease, officials said.
Bangladesh authorities said 45 more deaths were recorded, including those of two Rohingya refugees, along with more than 3,100 new cases. The latter figure pushed the country’s standing to number 20 – just behind Qatar – on the list of countries with the most cases of COVID-19 cases, according to the latest data gathered by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, a Bangladeshi health expert warned that the coronavirus pandemic in the country could deteriorate further because the government had reopened the economy and mosques after a two-month nationwide shutdown.
“Today, we see the highest number of COVID-19 deaths: 45 people died during the last 24 hours. The number of COVID-19 deaths stands at 975,” Nasima Sultana, an additional director general at the Directorate of Health, told reporters. “The highest number, 3,171, of new cases of COVID-19 infections also has been confirmed during the last 24 hours.”
The government reported the first COVID-19 case in Bangladesh on March 8 and the first death on March 18, leading to a national shutdown from March 26 to May 30.
During the first week of May, the government announced the partial reopening of businesses and mosques. Since then, the nation has seen the number of cases set a series of daily records.
“The rise in COVID-19 cases has been the consequence of the premature reopening of the economy and religious institutions. Besides, those celebrating the Eid holiday aggravated the situation further,” A.F.M. Ruhal Haque, a physician and former health minister, told BenarNews.
“They traveled between COVID-19 hotspots in Dhaka and rest of the country, shoulder to shoulder. We will see more cases in the coming days,” he added.
He said Bangladeshis did not take the pandemic seriously.
“The government tried to shut down the country in several phases, but the reality was the people did not bother. People still do not bother – hundreds of thousands have been moving outside carelessly using masks, let alone maintaining social distancing,” he said. “The government tried, but we failed.”
Health Minister Zahid Maleque agreed with Haque.
“Yes, we could not strictly enforce the shutdown, people were not serious,” he told BenarNews. “We have been planning a new shutdown strategy.”
He said authorities had been charting regions where the highest number of infections were recorded.
“Based on the chart, authorities will go for local shutdowns,” he said, adding the East Rajabazar neighborhood in Dhaka went into shutdown beginning Tuesday night.
Elsewhere, a scholar at the Center for Policy Dialogue, a private think-tank, gave a different perspective on why the pandemic was now spreading so fast.
“We have to understand why a section of people are careless about the dangers of COVID-19 – they are careless because they are poor. Millions of people in Bangladesh have no savings to last one month, so they came out to survive,” Mustafizur Rahman told BenarNews.
“The government has a dilemma, authorities have to contain the virus and save the lives of people. This is a biggest challenge for us to strike a balance between life and livelihood,” he said.
New Rohingya deaths
The two Rohingya who died after testing positive for the virus lived at refugee camps in Ukhia, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, said Dr. Abu Toha M.R.H. Bhuiyan, health coordinator of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission.
One of the victims was a septuagenarian and the other was 58 years old. They were the second and third Rohingya to die from COVID-19 in Bangladesh.
Another five Rohingya had tested positive for the coronavirus disease since Monday, raising the total number of confirmed cases among refugees to 35 since May 15, when the first case was detected in the sprawling refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh, Bhuiyan told BenarNews.
“Most of the Rohingya are not conscious about the dangers of the coronavirus. We have been trying to create awareness among them. Besides, all possible measures have been in place to stop further spread of coronavirus at the camps,” Saikat Biswas, spokesman for the Inter Sector Coordination Group, told BenarNews.
Close to 1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution and violence in neighboring Myanmar live in refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar district.
“Since the outbreak of coronavirus, we have been suggesting they contact the nearby health centers in case any of them had fever, coughing and cold-related problems. We have provided hotline numbers at different spots so they can contact [the centers] easily. There are 24/7 health centers inside the camps,” Biswas said, adding that Rohingya had been told they should not hide symptoms.
He said two dedicated isolation treatment centers were opened in at refugee camps.
“We have been building a 1,900 bed treatment center for the Rohingya. We have already readied 600 beds. Very soon, we will complete 600 more beds,” Mohammad Shamsu Douza, an additional refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told BenarNews.