The country saw its highest one-day death toll from Covid-19 and a record new cases of infections yesterday, the day the government eased the nationwide shutdown ignoring warnings from experts.
Forty people died from the disease in the 24 hours till yesterday afternoon — the highest number of fatalities in a single day — pushing the death count to 650.
The number of infections shot up to 47,153 after 2,545 cases were detected during this period, according to the Directorate General of Health Services.
Meanwhile, offices, businesses and some transport services reopened on “a limited scale” despite fears of an intensified virus onslaught.
Even the government’s National Technical Advisory Committee on May 28 suggested the withdrawal of closure in phases, warning that the situation might worsen if safety measures are not strictly implemented.
But their recommendations went unheeded.
Dhaka returned to its usual chaotic self somewhat with traffic jams in different intersections yesterday. A huge number of private cars were seen plying the roads. Long queues were seen in front of banks and post offices in the city.
However, only a handful of shopping malls in different areas had lifted their shutters.
Services on the rail and waterways resumed with overcrowded ferries, raising questions about compliance of health guidelines, deemed very crucial in the fight against novel coronavirus. Buses are scheduled to begin operating from today.
The government first declared the nationwide shutdown from March 26, coinciding with Independence Day, till April 4 after the country on March 18 confirmed the first coronavirus death, 10 days after the detection of the first three Covid-19 cases.
The shutdown was extended in six phases until May 30. Although it was maintained loosely, it halted transport services and closed down most businesses.
The poor and those who rely on day labour to survive were hit hardest. The country’s economy, which had already been ailing, was sustaining deep wounds.
Meanwhile, the new-case curve continued to go up.
Against this backdrop, experts fear that lifting the shutdown before strictly enforcing the rules and requirements for slowing the spread will have dire consequences.
Speaking to the Daily Star on Saturday, Dr Iqbal Arsalan, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee, said the infection index will rise further due to the opening of offices and businesses.
“We do not have enough hospital beds or ventilators to deal with the crisis. Physical distancing is being stressed upon. The law enforcers will try to maintain physical distancing but soon the crowds will get out of control. We have seen this before Eid — law enforcers tried to disperse crowds but failed to because they cannot jump on civilians with riot gear.”
He spoke about an impending transport crisis among office-goers, since there has always been a shortage of public transport.
The government formed the 17-member advisory committee to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
On May 28, when the government declared it would relax closure, the committee in a press release said there would be a severe rise in cases if health and safety measures were not properly enforced.
“It has been seen that countries that lifted the lockdown, before experiencing a definite reduction in the infection rate, saw a rise in the infection,” said a statement signed by its Chairperson Prof Dr Md Shahidullah and Member-Secretary Prof Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora.
“Lifting the lockdown before strictly implementing the rules and requirements of preventing transmission will increase the number of positive patients and create pressure on the healthcare system,” warned the statement.
Prof Shah Monir Hossain, a member of the committee, said, “We had hoped to flatten the curve by the end of June but that is probably not going to happen anymore because the number of coronavirus patients will increase [due to the lifting of the shutdown].”
In the daily online briefing on the outbreak, Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, additional director general (administration) of the DGHS, said 406 Covid-19 patients have recovered since Saturday, taking the total number of recoveries to 9,781.
Of the dead, 33 were male and seven female, she said, adding that 28 were from Dhaka, eight from Chattogram, two from Khulna, one from Rangpur and another from Rajshahi division.
One was aged between 21 and 30, five between 31 and 40, 11 between 41 and 50, eight between 51 and 60, 11 between 61 and 70, and four between 71 and 80, she said.
A total of 391 people were kept in isolation and 126 were released in the 24 hours till yesterday afternoon, she said.
So far, 5,794 people are in isolation and 3,016 were released across the country, she added.
In the 24 hours till yesterday afternoon, 2,947 people were put in quarantine while 3,042 others were released throughout the country.
Currently, 60,181 people are under home or institutional quarantine, the DGHS official said.
Data shows that the young were most infected with Covid-19. Nearly 72 percent of total infected people are aged between 21 and 50.