Virus fears run deep as Eid holidaymakers crowd ferries to return to Dhaka

  • Munshiganj Correspondent,
    Published: 2021-05-16 14:59:19 BdST

Working people have once again crowded ferries to return to Dhaka and its surrounding areas, mostly from southern districts in Bangladesh, after spending Eid with their families.

Thousands of people made their way to Munshiganj’s Shimulia port from Madaripur’s Banglabazar on Sunday morning.

The passengers struggled to make their way back as the long-haul bus service is still closed because of the lockdown. Many were charged extra for their return to their places of work.

Komol Mandul, who came from Bagerhat, said he had paid Tk 600 to travel to Banglabazar from his district by microbus. He says he usually pays only Tk 300.

“It cost me Tk 800 to get to Banglabazar,” said Fatema Rahman, who came from Barishal. “I couldn’t stay away. The office has reopened.”

Fifteen ferries are currently operating on the river route, according to BIWTC Assistant Manager Bhujan Kumar Saha, who is stationed in Kathalbari.

“The rush of passengers began early this morning. They are crossing on the ferries. We tried to prioritise trucks and ambulances. Law enforcers are trying to manage the situation at the port.”

“Ferry service was kept operational on an emergency basis,” says BIWTC AGM Shafiqul Islam. “But people returning to their places of work are swarming onto the ferries to cross the rivers. This is increasing the risk of further spreading the pandemic.”

People arrive at the Shimulia port in Munshiganj on Sunday, May 16, 2021 as they head back to Dhaka after the Eid holidays.

Few people are coming to Shimulia from Dhaka, but there is a torrent of people headed from Madaripur to Dhaka, said Shafiqul.

A lockdown has been imposed across the country in the wake of a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Launch, train and long-haul bus services have been suspended during the duration of the lockdown.

The government had instructed people to stay near their places of employment during Eid to try and control the pandemic. But hundreds of thousands of people still made the trip home in the days before Eid.

Eid returnees crowded onto small transport to make the trip home and overwhelmed the ferries with little regard for health restrictions. Several lives were lost in the crush of the crowd on the Shimulia-Banglabazar route.

The violation of health regulations and crowding on transport and shopping malls mean that the pandemic situation is likely to worsen, experts say.

Director General of Health Services Dr ABM Khurshid Alam has recommended steps to slow the return of those who made the Eid trip home.

“It will be dangerous if people make their way back in the same manner,” he said. “It would be best to delay their return somewhat. We must also consider how we can bring them back to Dhaka in a proper way.”

The government has decided to extend the lockdown by another week in light of the pandemic risks and a notice is expected on Sunday.