Anti-Lockdown Protests Spread in Bangladesh

Sharif Khiam
Dhaka
2021-04-06
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Anti-Lockdown Protests Spread in Bangladesh Store owners from Bangladesh’s Narayanganj district protest against the government’s week-long coronavirus lockdown, in Dhaka, April 6, 2021.
Focus Bangla

Protests against a week-long COVID-19 lockdown imposed in Bangladesh spread to 20 locations across the country on Tuesday, a day after police said one person was killed and others were injured when law enforcement officials fired at demonstrators in the south-central district of Faridpur.

Law enforcement officials were injured as well in Monday’s violence in Faridpur, district police chief Md. Alimuzzaman told reporters.

“Eight members of RAB and police were also injured in the incident,” Alimuzzaman said, referring to the elite anti-crime police unit Rapid Action Battalion.

Police and members of Ansar, a paramilitary auxiliary force, fired 588 shots and 32 tear gas shells during the clashes in Faridpur that began around 6 p.m. on Monday and lasted five hours, police told journalists.

Public health expert Dr. Ruhul Furkan Siddique said that the protests could increase the risk of COVID-19 infections.

 “The situation is very delicate and dire. This is slowly getting worse,” Siddique, a professor of the Department of Public Health and Informatics at Jahangirnagar University, told BenarNews.

“Those who are protesting should understand that the government is trying to protect all as per the advice of experts. If people do not understand this, they will have to take the responsibility for infections and deaths.”

A madrassa student was killed and several other people were injured when police opened fire during Monday’s anti-lockdown protest in Saltha, a sub-district of Faridpur, reports said, citing law enforcement officials.   

The student was identified as Jubayar Hossain, according to reports in the Bangladeshi media.

Officers opened fire “in self-defense” after a police station was attacked, a police spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

AFP quoted staff at a local hospital as saying that three people with gunshot wounds were in critical condition.

The protests flared up after the Bangladesh government imposed a nationwide lockdown for seven days beginning Monday, its strictest coronavirus response to date, amid a steady rise in new infections.

On Tuesday, Bangladesh reported 7,213 new COVID-19 infections and 66 virus-related deaths, government health data showed.

COVID-19 infections in Bangladesh, first detected in March 2020, peaked last June and July. Since then, new infections gradually decreased to between 300 and 400 daily in the last week of February.

New COVID-19 infections began rising again in the first week of March, mainly because people stopped following health and safety protocols, Zahid Maleque, the health minister, told journalists last week.

Meanwhile, the government has allowed public transport services to resume in Dhaka and a few other areas, starting Wednesday.

The government allowed this change after considering the effects of a full lockdown on transport staff and office workers who rely on the buses to get to their jobs, said Obaidul Quader, Road Transport and Bridges minister.

Buses and minibuses will be able to run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in all city corporation areas of the country, including Dhaka and Chittagong, Quader said.

However, half of the seats on public transport must remain empty, and fares will be 70 percent higher than normal, he said.

‘People will die without eating’

Restaurant and shop owners’ groups said they understood the need to stem the rising number of COVID-19 cases but expressed concern about what it could mean to their groups’ members.

“The protesters would return home if the government assured them that the shops would be reopened by a certain date. But now there is uncertainty as to when they will be able to reopen,” Md. Helal Uddin, president of the Bangladesh Shop Owners Association, told BenarNews.

“It is undoubtedly a necessity to impose the lockdown, but people will die without eating. If we want to save people from COVID-19 in this way, we must find some alternative solutions,” Syed Mohammad Andalib, organizing secretary of the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners’ Association, told BenarNews.

“Some 30 percent to 35 percent of the restaurant owners have gone bankrupt … and the new lockdown has emerged as a great danger for us,” Andalib said.

His concerns drew support from Nahian bin Khaled, a Dhaka-based analyst from Washington’s International Food Policy and Research Institute.

“They fear that if the lockdown is prolonged, they will be deprived of income from Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr markets,” Khaled told BenarNews, referring to the Islamic holy month of fasting, which is expected to begin on April 12 in Bangladesh.

Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of the fasting period.

“Many traders make a lion’s share of their profits during this time and if there is no income from the shop, the employees are not paid,” Khaled said.

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