Eerily quiet Dhaka is a ‘haunted city’ in ‘war’ against coronavirus

  • Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-03-26 20:45:08 BdST

With people advised to stay indoors, Dhaka is almost deserted as coronavirus fears have prompted the nation into virtual lockdown to prevent the spread.

Workers stayed away to leave the Bangladesh capital’s bustling streets deserted on Thursday on the Independence Day.

Many of the residents had left the city before transportation services were suspended and a 10-day nationwide general holiday was imposed to keep people at home.

Most of those still in the city are staying indoors. Some went out only to fetch food and medicine.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina compared the present situation with a war in her televised speech to the nation on the eve of the Independence Day. The streets at Azimpur, Topkhana Road, Malibagh, Razarbagh, Fokirerpool, Naya Paltan, Kakrail, Moghbazar and Farm Gate were eerily empty the next day.

The sudden sound of a vehicle out in some emergency or ringing of a rickshaw bell pierces the silence on the empty streets, lanes and alleys. People are not heading out unless hard pressed to buy daily essentials.

The law-enforcing agencies have swung into action to stop people being out and about. There have been one or two incidents of people being chased away or beaten for getting out to home without needs.

The government had ordered schools and colleges shut to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic that has led different countries to go into lockdown. As the death counts and number of the infected rose, it announced a five-day general holiday and gradually closed the shops and public transport system. Army was called out to assist the civil administration in getting a better handle on the situation.

COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of more than 21,000 people across the world. The number of infection has crossed 450,000. Bangladesh has reported 44 cases with a death toll of 5.

On Thursday morning, some people at the kitchen market in Azimpur were found ignoring social distancing though the government has suggested avoiding crowds to avoid catching the coronavirus infection.

Shoppers buying fish did not pay heed when the bdnews24.com reporter tried to remind them of their duty to abide by the social distancing advice.

There were customers in the medicine stores near Azimpur Matrisadan. The police are chasing away anyone loitering, said Senior Assistant Commissioner Md Sanwar Hossain.

A few police personnel were chasing people away wielding sticks at the Azimpur intersection.

Palashi kitchen market was open but not many shoppers were visiting, said the traders. Palashi streets were also deserted.

People from the lower income groups are suffering the most during the ‘lockdown.’ Rickshaw-puller Abdul Khaleque had only one passenger until afternoon. He came to work at 8am and earned only Tk 60.

“I’m not getting any rider and no one is saying anything,” he told bdnews24.com.

Another rickshaw-puller was found sleeping.

CORONAVIRUS ALERT: A drugstore in Dhaka’s Shahbagh advises people to maintain a safe distance while waiting to buy medicines. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

“Everything has been shut. How can one sit in a small room for so long? It’s 11 in the morning now and I went to the rail gate twice. No one was there. I don’t know how to get by,” said Sona Mia, a push-cart owner at Malibagh rail gate.

“How will we stay in Dhaka? We would have left Dhaka if buses were available,” he said.

Rickshaw-puller Rahimuddin at Moghbazar pleaded with the bdnews24.com reporter to get on his rickshaw as he had not had any rider since 6am. He asked for only Tk 25 to go to Malibagh from Moghbazar, a ride that usually costs Tk 40.

IT FEELS LIKE 1971

Abdul Jalil, a 70-year-old living in Naya Paltan, feels the situation is similar to that in 1971, the time of the liberation war.

“I had never seen anything like it, not even on the day after Mar 25 in 1971. Dhaka looks like a haunted city. People left the capital just the way they did after the dark night of Mar 25.”

People are not coming out into the streets fearing the army, said Amanullah, a security personnel in a house in Kakrail.

“The house owner ordered the tenants not to go out,” he said.

Both the Awami League and BNP offices were found empty.

Visitors are being allowed only after having their temperature taken, masks worn and disinfectant sprayed in a politician’s house in Gulshan.  The house is out of bounds for strangers.

TWO PEOPLE SHOULD NOT MOVE TOGETHER

Police and Dhaka City Corporation personnel are asking people not to come out of their home and not to move around together even though it is two people.

“We are disseminating this message from all police vehicles on duty. We’re asking people not to go out unless it’s an emergency. Only those shops selling daily staples can remain open,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Abdullahel Kafi told bdnews24.com.