Thousands of Bangladeshis stranded in Dhaka ahead of sweeping COVID-19 lockdown

DHAKA: Thousands of people were stranded in Bangladesh’s capital on Monday as authorities halted almost all public transport ahead of a sweeping lockdown imposed to combat a deadly resurgence of Covid-19 infections.

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The country reported 119 deaths on Sunday, its highest-ever daily death toll from the pandemic, while new infections have been averaging around 5,000 for the past few days.

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Officials blame the recent spike in cases on the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant first identified in neighbouring India.

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The majority of the South Asian nation’s 168 million population will be confined to their homes by Thursday as part of the restrictions, with only essential services and some export-facing factories allowed to operate.

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The lockdown announcement sparked an exodus of migrant workers from the capital Dhaka to home villages on Sunday, with tens of thousands of people cramming into ferries to cross a major river.

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The staggered implementation of the lockdown rules left thousands of workers in Dhaka forced to walk to their offices on Monday, sometimes for hours, in the sweltering summer heat.

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Workplaces will be shut from Wednesday

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Large columns of people were seen walking on the main roads early on Monday. Workplaces will be shut from Wednesday.

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Bicycle rickshaws were allowed to operate in a last minute government concession late Sunday, but prices had soared to unaffordable levels, commuters said.

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“I started walking at 7am. I could not get any bus or any other vehicles. I can’t afford a rickshaw ride,” Shefali Begum, 60, who was going to her daughter’s home in central Dhaka, told AFP.

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Restrictions on activities and movement were imposed across Bangladesh in mid-April as cases and deaths jumped to their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

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Infections declined in May but started to rise again this month, sparking the harsher restrictions.

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The country has reported more than 880,000 infections and just over 14,000 virus deaths, but experts say the actual toll could be much higher due to possible underreporting.

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Health officials across the world have been alarmed by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, now reported by the WHO to have reached at least 85 countries.

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More than two-thirds of new virus cases in Bangladesh’s capital were of the Delta variant, a recent study by the independent Dhaka-based International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research reported.

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