Dhaka streets are virtually empty as 'strictest' lockdown sets in

Dhaka is wearing a largely deserted look, as only a smattering of vehicles dotted the streets following the onset of another lockdown, with curbs dubbed the 'strictest' yet, to rein in a record surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Other than ambulances, goods transports, media and law-enforcement vehicles, only rickshaws and three-wheel vans were seen plying the roads. Even the rickshaws are fewer in number than on most other days.

However, the situation has brought sufferings to people returning to the capital on the river transport services from the south after the Eid-ul-Azha festivities. In the absence of road transports, many left the Sadarghat launch terminal on foot, while others boarded vans and rickshaws, paying two or three times in excess of the usual fare to get to their destination.

The scenes were much the same in most parts of the capital, including Malibagh, Mouchak, Rampura, Bailey Road, Kakrail, Paltan, New Market, Nilkhet, Hatirpool, Green Road, Mohammadpur and Dhanmondi.

With Friday being a weekly holiday, pedestrians were few and far between. The kitchen markets, too, were mostly devoid of customers.

The lockdown, which came to effect at 6 am, has not only imposed restrictions on the movement of people but shops, malls, public transports and factories across the country have also been ordered shut in a desperate bid to limit the transmission of coronavirus infections. The curbs are slated to continue until midnight on Aug 5.

However, the sectors related to rawhide, food, and drugs and materials needed for the prevention of COVID-19 are exempt from the lockdown restrictions.

EID RETURNEES LEFT IN THE LURCH

After arriving at Sadarghat from Barishal at dawn, Rafiq Uddin has set out for his home in Rampura with his family on foot.

“We have landed in quite a predicament. The rickshaw fare is three times higher than normal. Vans also want thousands of takas to go to Rampura. Left with no other options, we decided to walk all the way there. We took little breaks in between but carrying all the luggage over our heads has left us gasping for breath."

Farida Akhtar was similarly dismayed by the situation. She came to Dhaka from Patuakhali on a launch. She is now making her way home perched uncomfortably on a van while clinging on to her two young children.

“If this was going to be the situation then why didn't the launch leave yesterday? How are we supposed to go home? Police are detaining people at various points. They are not listening to anything.”

Court vehicles were also seen travelling on various roads in the capital. Police were also actively patrolling the streets to deter wanderers.

In Lalbagh, Bakshibazar, Azimpur, Malibagh's Chowdhury Para, Shantibagh, Mohammadpur and Dhanmondi, rickshaws are by far the most popular mode of transportation, with few people traversing the alleys without them.

While there are many vans bedecked with various grocery items in the back alleys, sellers are scarce on the first day of the latest lockdown.

Law enforcers have activated check-posts at various points in the city and are stopping most vehicles that happen to pass by.

New Market Police Inspector Monirul Haque Dablu said, “We have sealed off the whole area. We have let through a few people who came back to Dhaka in the morning on humanitarian grounds. But we won't even allow rickshaws in the area as the day progresses.”

A handful of shops, including grocery stores, were open in Mohammadpur's Town Hall market.

Shahjahan Saju, a rickshaw driver near Nurjahan Road, said, “I took my rickshaw out because I have to eat. There is no other way. If the police catch me then so be it. I have to live and help my family survive.”

Adabar Police Station Inspector Farooq Mollah said, “They (rickshaw drivers) are giving us various excuses for getting out on the street. We are trying to explain the situation and turning them away. But we are taking legal action against those who aren't listening."

Aftab Uddin, who came from Ati Bazar to sell milk in Dhanmondi, said, “There are no cars on the road. I have only seen rickshaws so far."

Constable Elias, who is stationed in Sat Masjid Road, said, “There have been no machine-powered vehicles on the road since the morning. Some people are travelling on rickshaws or on foot. ”