Lockdown to get stricter
The government has turned down the plea from businesspeople, including garment manufacturers, for letting them resume operation of factories, fearing a further surge in Covid deaths and infections.
Moreover, it has decided to make stricter the ongoing lockdown till August 5 to stem the transmission of the virus that has left the health sector in disarray, said sources.
A primary decision has also been made to extend the lockdown beyond August 5 if Covid infections continue to surge.
If the infection rate starts to decline, the government will relax the restrictions for some sectors, the sources added.
The decisions came at an inter-ministerial meeting, chaired by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, at the Cabinet Division yesterday.
The government enforced the "strict" lockdown for 14 days from July 1. It, however, relaxed the lockdown for eight days for the Eid celebrations. The strict restrictions were again put in place on July 23 for two weeks to curb deaths and infections.
The high-level meeting was held at a time when the country logged the highest deaths. Yesterday, 258 deaths and 14,925 new infections were recorded.
The death toll was 247 on Monday when a record 15,192 virus cases were logged.
"The ongoing lockdown will continue till August 5. Though businesspeople and others have requested [to let them resume operation of factories], we could not accept it," Asaduzzaman told journalists after the meeting.
According to meeting sources, when the issue of reopening garment factories was raised, it was argued that a good number of people will rush to Dhaka which will further worsen the situation.
"The government doesn't want to take such a risk," said an official who attended the meeting.
Though the lockdown was in place, the number of private vehicles on roads in the capital yesterday was higher than that of the previous day.
Commuters as well as vehicles, including cars, microbuses and motorbikes, were seen heading towards Dhaka, crossing the Padma river through the Paturia-Daulatdia route.
Health officials said there is no alternative but to enforce strict lockdown to prevent the Covid situation from going out of control.
On Monday, Health Minister Zahid Maleque said 90 percent beds at hospitals were occupied.
"If Covid infections continue like this, there will be no vacant beds at hospitals," he warned.
At yesterday's meeting, it was decided that necessary measures would be taken to make sure anyone stepping out of home for emergency purposes wears facemask.
The government will also go for extensive community engagement so that the Covid restrictions are enforced properly.
Steps will be taken to ensure isolation and quarantine of those infected with the virus. Besides, vigorous campaigns would be launched across the country to make people aware of the pandemic.
The family members (aged over 18) of the frontliners in the fight against Covid will also be given jabs on an emergency basis.
It was also decided that another meeting will be held before August 5 to determine the next course of action.
Talking to the media, Asaduzzaman said the government will launch a massive vaccination campaign on August 7.
The authorities will administer Covid vaccine to anyone with a national identity (NID) card to speed up the inoculation campaign, he mentioned.
"We have seen that the countries which took up vaccination programmes have been able to bring down the infection rate. Our neighbouring country is an example of this. That's why the prime minister has given instructions to strengthen the vaccination campaign.
"She [the PM] has also issued directives to give Covid vaccine to any NID card holder."
Those who do not have NID cards can also get vaccinated by getting registered at a vaccination point, the home minister said.
"Not only members of law enforcement agencies or government officials, public representatives, and political, social and religious leaders also need to get involved in the vaccination campaign to make it successful. Otherwise, we will not be able to overcome this situation," he observed.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said, "We are giving emphasis on vaccination. We are setting up vaccination centres in unions where the locals can get jabs… They can get the shots, showing their NID cards...
"About 75 percent of the patients at hospitals are elderly people and 90 percent of them are not vaccinated. Mortality risk is high among them. We request all the elderly people to take jabs," he told reporters after the meeting.
Those aged above 50 will be given priority for vaccination, he noted.
The government has a plan to take the inoculation facilities to the ward level after securing more vaccine doses, added Zahid.