COVID Spike Forces Bangladesh to Close Schools for 2 Weeks

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
COVID Spike Forces Bangladesh to Close Schools for 2 Weeks Bangladeshis who are shopping in a crowded Dhaka street market ignore directives to maintain social distancing and wear face masks amid the recent spike of COVID-19 cases, Jan. 21, 2022.

Bangladesh schools, which shut down for 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, will close their doors again for the next two weeks to contain a wave of infections as the nation deals with the contagious Omicron variant, officials said Friday.

The South Asian nation recorded 11,434 new coronavirus infections on Friday – the most in more than five months – bringing the total to more than 1.6 million cases since the pandemic began here in 2020. It also recorded 12 more deaths, taking the overall toll to nearly 28,200 fatalities.

“Omicron variants may be the reason for the rapid increase in infections,” Health Minister Zahid Maleque told reporters at a press conference in Dhaka on Friday.

“We are seeing an uptick in infections in schools and colleges. This is really alarming,” he said, according to Reuters news agency.

The announcement that all schools and universities would be closed for in-person classes through Feb. 6 topped the government’s latest five-point list of restrictions.

Those restrictions also include limiting crowds to 100 or less at religious, political and social programs; requiring vaccination certificates for government and non-government workers; and requiring that facemasks be worn in all public places.

However, the government is still allowing buses and other modes of public transportation to operate at full capacity.

A virology expert said the government’s decision to close campuses might not be the best way to control the spread of COVID-19.

“I think public transportation would spread the infection more than other sectors,” Nazrul Islam, former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told BenarNews.

“The government has closed down schools, colleges and universities. They have control over the educational institutes,” he said.

“But the government has no control over the public transportation system. The public transportation is open, and the owners and workers would not listen to the government orders issued today,” he added.

Nazrul said the government had recently ordered transportation companies to run at half capacity because of the pandemic, but owners and employees had threatened to stop running buses and other forms of transportation.

“The government had to withdraw the order,” he said.

Meanwhile, a former health officer urged the public to help bring COVID-19 under control.

“These are good orders. But there is no reason to think that people will start obeying the orders,” M. Mushtuq Husain, an ex-chief scientific officer at the government’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), told BenarNews.

“In order to implement this directive of the government, the people need to be involved by forming various committees at the community level under the leadership of government agencies and local government bodies assigning them to motivate people.”

He is not sure that will happen.

“Unfortunately, committees have not been formed at all levels of government and at the community level. So, no matter how good the orders from the government are, I fear they will not be fully implemented,” he said.

In December, Bangladeshis had hope that the pandemic was showing signs of easing, even recording no deaths on Dec. 9 – only to see daily infections spike again earlier this month.

Students, parents react

A St. Joseph School 10th grader supported the government’s decision to shutter schools only four months after campuses reopened to in-person classes after being closed for 18 months because of the viral outbreak.

“You need to follow hygiene rules to prevent coronavirus infection, which cannot be maintained in school despite efforts. I have contracted the coronavirus,” Abrar Zarif told BenarNews.

While schools are closed again, Zarif does not want to stop learning.

“The school authorities should make the online classes better so the education is done properly,” he said.

Two fathers, meanwhile, had differing views on the closure.

Mizanur Rahman, parent of a Green Herald School student in Dhaka, expressed disappointment.

“Students have suffered a lot due to the closure for a year and a half,” he told BenarNews. “Many students are dropping out because they can’t keep up with online classes.

“I want the educational institutions to open as soon as possible to save the generation because we have to live with coronavirus. It may never go away,” he said.

Another parent, Waresh Hossain, hopes the shutdown is short-lived.

“I support the government’s announcement to close educational institutions considering students safety amid rising infections. However, this closure should not last long,” he told BenarNews.


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