With the Eid-ul-Fitr festival over, people on Sunday started returning to the capital and experienced the nightmare at country’s two major ferry ghats Banglabazar-Shimulia and Daulatdia-Paturia like they faced during their home journey.
Just two days before Eid, five people met with their tragic end and 15 injured while getting down from the ferries in two incidents at Banglabazar in Madaripur district.People who went home to celebrate Eid with their near and dear ones started coming back to the capital in droves, but they were least bothered about health guidelines.
After hearing the announcement of further extension of the countrywide lockdown, people thronged the river channels and highways to return to the capital in violation of the health rules amid the lockdown.
On Sunday, the government extended the countrywide lockdown until May 23 to check the spread of the coronavirus or Covid-19. The Cabinet Division issued a circular in this regard to check spread of the deadly virus.
All the offices and organisations related to revenue collection have been kept outside the purview of the restrictions.
Besides, shops that sell food items, hotels and restaurants will be allowed to provide takeaway or online services during the period, the circular said.
People mostly from the country’s southern districts, working in the capital and its surroundings, again crowded ferries to return to their working places after celebrating Eid. Thousands of people struggled to make their way back as long-haul bus services remain suspended due to the lockdown. Many were charged extra for their travel to return to their workplacesKamal Hossain, who came from Bagerhat, said he had paid Tk 600 to travel to Banglabazar by microbus. “I usually pay Tk 300 for travel to Banglabazar from the district,” he said.
“It cost me Tk 800 to get to Banglabazar,” said Fatema Rahman, who came from Barishal. “I couldn’t help returning to my workplace as my office has reopened,” he added.
Currently, a total of 15 ferries are in operation on the river route, said Bhujan Kumar Saha, Assistant Manager of Banladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), stationed in Kathalbari.
“Rush of passengers began early Sunday. They are crossing the river on ferries. We tried to give priority truck and ambulance service. 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 workplaces are swarming onto the ferries to cross the rivers. This is increasing the risk of spreading the virus.”
Some people are also coming to Shimulia and Paturai ferry ghats from Dhaka to cross the river Padma. But there was a mad rush of people returning to Dhaka from the country’s southern region, said Shafiqul.
Meanwhile, people from the northern districts have started returning to the capital and surrounding areas, but traffic on Dhaka-Tangail-Bangabandhu Bridge Highway was rather thin.
Despite a ban on long-haul bus services amid the countrywide restrictions, buses from northern districts like Panchagarh, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Natore and Pabna were seen running on the highways.
A severe traffic jam was created at Aminbazar in Savar, causing sufferings for the passengers.
Zahir, a passenger, said, “I came to my aunt’s house in Dhaka. Now I am returning home in Dinajpur. I don’t know when I will be able to reach home.”
Officer-in-charge Yasir Arafat of Elenga highway police outpost in Tangail said they were taking legal action against long-route buses.
“[But] many long-distance bus drivers have hit the streets despite being booked multiple times,” he added.
Travellers said they had to pay almost thrice the usual fare to secure transportation services.
Rubel Miah, who was heading out of Dhaka, said he had to pay Tk 1,200 for a trip to Dinajpur instead of the usual Tk 400-500.
In a bid to contain the virus, the government asked people not to travel to their hometowns for Eid. But people in their thousands made home journey to celebrate Eid with their near and dear ones.
As corona cases keeps rising at an alarming rate since mid-March, the government imposed a "relaxed countrywide lockdown" for one week from April 5. Later, a "stricter lockdown" was enforced from April 14 to 21.
On April 23, the Cabinet Division issued a notice allowing shops and shopping malls to operate from April 25 (10:00am-5:00pm) on condition that they will properly maintain health safety protocols.