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Govt tightens curbs as omicron spreads. But Dhaka appears oblivious

  • Senior Correspondent,
    Published: 2022-01-13 19:57:49 BdST

Vendor Mokhles was selling vegetables without a mask. His customer at Muslim Bazar in Dhaka’s Mirpur 12 had no face-covering either.

“It’s no use wearing a mask. We’ll catch the coronavirus somehow no matter what we do. It’s not possible to comply with so many rules,” said Mokhles, who gave a single name, as the government began enforcing certain restrictions to stop the spread of the omicron variant.

The 11-point directive aimed to halt a spike in COVID-19 cases came into force on Thursday, but people in the capital were mostly indifferent to the curbs.

People at hotels, restaurants and stores in Mirpur were out without masks on while the law enforcers appeared to have no qualms about the mandatory mask rules.

The government also made vaccine certificates a must to dine in restaurants and stay in hotels, but the new rule was not being followed at all.

Most of the people were unaware of the new restrictions.

“Coronavirus cases are rising, and the government has put restrictions in place. People should be made aware of these [new restrictions]. But there are no announcements. And there is no one to monitor if the rules are followed,” said Suleiman Hossain, who came to buy food from a restaurant.

“Not all people follow news and it is the government’s duty to let them know. But the authorities have no headache about it.”

Anwar Hossain, the owner of a restaurant, said they were asking customers to bring their vaccination cards along. “But they do not listen. We are familiar with all the customers in the neighbourhood. It’s not possible to force the locals to do anything because we have to run a business.”

However, the scenes at Al-Amin Restaurant near Mohammadpur’s Shia Mosque were different. A maximum of three people were allowed to dine in a table for six to maintain physical distance rules while those without masks were barred from entering. But not everyone had vaccine cards.

“Many people did not receive vaccines. We can’t do anything about that,” said Azam Ali, the restaurant manager.

“We’ve asked customers to take away food. But not all the customers are from the neighbourhood. Among them are autorickshaw, Uber and motorcycle drivers. We could’ve done things differently if this was a luxurious restaurant. It’s difficult to follow all the rules in an ordinary eatery.”

Executive Magistrate Sanjeev Das conducted a mobile court in Dhaka to penalise offenders for not masking up amid a surge in omicron transmission on Thursday, Jan 13, 2022. Photo: Kazi Salahuddin Razu

Executive Magistrate Sanjeev Das conducted a mobile court in Dhaka to penalise offenders for not masking up amid a surge in omicron transmission on Thursday, Jan 13, 2022. Photo: Kazi Salahuddin Razu

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday urged everyone to get COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible.

“Those who have not got the vaccine should get it quickly. We have started vaccinating school students. The reality is that the vaccine can, at least, save your life.”

Hasina also warned about the rapid spread of omicron and asked people to be careful and follow health regulations.

“This variant is spreading quickly. Entire families are getting infected. So, I urge everyone to follow health precautions and follow the instructions the government has announced.”

Despite her request, and the instruction issued by the government to avoid gatherings, scores of people thronged Dhaka International Trade Fair at Purbachal.

As people swarmed the fair inside as the clock was ticking into the afternoon, the crowds waiting to join the visitors inside spilt onto the street outside the venue.

Volunteers were barring people from entering without a mask. People did queue up outside to enter the fair, but once inside, many took off their masks.

Lokman Hossain, a police sub-inspector, said Thursday’s crowds were bigger than Wednesday’s. “More people will visit the fair in the evening.”

To avoid the afternoon crowd, Hosne Ara Khanam, a housewife from Gulshan, visited the fair in the morning with her daughter.

“I know about the restrictions imposed by the government. But I came here to buy some necessities. My daughter and I did not take off our masks even for a moment. But I can see many people without a mask.”

At the Kakali bus stand, the transport workers were mostly without masks and those who had them chose to cover only their chins.

On a Prabhati Banasree Paribahan bus, which makes trips from Gulistan to Sreepur, many passengers had no masks, neither did the driver’s helper, Abdul Baten. “I wear a mask all the time, but take them off to smoke sometimes,” he said.

Even on a bus of state-owned corporation BRTC, many passengers had no masks while getting on, and those who had taken them off after taking their seat.

The government has ordered bus drivers and their helpers to carry their vaccine certificates during work, but Joynal Abedin, a BRTC bus helper, did not receive a jab yet.

He said he registered for the vaccine on Tuesday and would get it from Mugda Medical College Hospital.