People in their thousands, mostly garment workers, on Saturday started returning to Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj amid a nationwide ‘strict’ lockdown following the government’s announcement to allow all export-oriented factories to open from today.
Due to the closure of public transport movement, people were undergoing untold sufferings and they had to count 3-4 times the regular fare to reach their destinations.
Meanwhile, vessels started to ply on Saturday night and their operation will continue till 12 noon today, said the public relations officer of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
Since the announcement of the opening of factories on Friday night, those who left the capital for Eid-ul-Azha but did not come back due to the closure of factories were seen entering the city on the 9th day of the strict lockdown.
The majority of people were seen walking on foot while some were travelling by trucks, pickups, microbuses, rickshaws and battery-powered auto-rickshaws.
During their movement, most of them were seen ignoring health guidelines, including maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.
Shimulia ferry terminal in Munshiganj saw huge crowd as people from south and southwestern districts were coming back to the capital to join their work.
Hygiene was being ignored, increasing the risk of coronavirus transmission.
Due to the pressure of passengers, eight ferries were plying this waterway. After getting off the ferries, there is no end to sufferings of the passengers as the public transport is closed. Passengers were arriving at Shimulia ghat by different vehicles with 3-4 times extra fare.
Some Dhaka-bound passengers said the factories are open from today. They have to go back to work to save their jobs. So, they were returning to Dhaka.
Ferries were packed, they said, adding that if public transport, launches and speedboats run alongside industrial establishments, then there will be no congestion and this might not lead to coronavirus transmission.
Mohammad Shafiqul Islam, assistant general manager of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) at Shimulia ghat, said, “A few vehicles are waiting to cross our Shimulia ghat. The pressure of passengers is low.”
“However, there’re a lot of vehicles waiting at Banglabazar ghat. Ferries coming from there have a lot of passengers. This pressure has increased as garment factories open tomorrow. The pressure will be reduced on Sunday.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of passengers and private vehicles continued returning to Dhaka via Daulatdia-Paturia river channel on Saturday in violation of the ongoing lockdown.
A large number of people were coming through Abdullahpur Tongi Bridge, Ashulia Bridge, Aminbazar Bridge, Gabtoli, Babubazar Bridge and Postagola Bridge.
Many of these passengers were not even wearing masks let alone following the health and hygiene guidelines.
While visiting Babubazar Bridge in Dhaka, the entrance to the southern part of the country on Saturday, it was seen that people were entering the capital in rickshaws, pickup vans and on foot. Kawsar Ahmed who works in a garment factory in Rampura of the capital said, “Garment factories will open Sunday. So, I had to return to Dhaka from Madaripur even amid the lockdown to save my job. There’re no buses on road due to the lockdown. I came using rickshaws and pickup vans.”
After receiving a message from the factory, Solaiman and his wife left for work in a rickshaw. From Tangail, he changed rickshaws and vans and reached Ashulia bypass. It cost them Tk 650.
He said, “We both work in Mirpur. The government opened factories but public transport was closed. I have to save my job, so I took rickshaws and vans.”
Shariful Islam left Sirajganj for work on Saturday morning after hearing the news of the opening of factories. He came to Chandra in a microbus from Sirajganj for Tk 800.
He said, “Factories will open from tomorrow. If not present on the first day, then they’ll mark me absent. There’s a risk of losing job. So, even though the fare was high, I returned with difficulty.”
Sarwar Hossain, organising secretary of Bangladesh Textile and Garments Workers League, said, “Workers started coming after the news of factory opening. They’re afraid of losing their jobs. However, factories have been opened without any arrangement of transport for workers. It’s extremely inhumane.”
Kamal Hossain, officer-in-charge of Mawna Highway Police Station, said, “Following the announcement of factory reopening, thousands of people, mostly garment workers, have been coming to Gazipur since Saturday morning. We’re making announcement through loud speakers so that they follow health guidelines and maintain distancing. We’re also advising everyone to wear mask.”
Another rush was seen on Gabtoli-Amin Bazar route. Thousands of people were entering Gabtoli on both sides of the bridge.
Sumon Hossain, a Gabtoli-bound passenger, said the fare from Paturia ferry ghat to Gabtoli is Tk 100 but private cars were taking Tk 1,000-1,500 per person.
He said he was forced to go to his destination with extra fare to save his job.
A good number of rickshaws, private cars and motorcycles were seen plying different city roads, including in Mohammadpur, Panthapath, Dhanmondi and Farmgate.
Members of police, Rapid Action Battalion and Border Guard Bangladesh were seen patrolling the city streets and checking vehicles at check-posts in different parts of the capital.
Most shops on main roads remained closed since morning but small ones in lanes and by-lanes were found open.
As per the government instructions, only ambulances and those providing emergency services are allowed for movement in the capital.
State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain said readymade garment factory workers, who are currently outside Dhaka, need not to return to their workplaces before the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown ends on August 5. “In this particular case, workers don’t have to worry about losing their jobs,” he said in a bid to assure the workers after virtually joining a programme on a private television channel on Friday night.
The government had earlier announced that all export-oriented factories would remain closed throughout the strict lockdown.
However, the authorities on Friday issued a circular stating that from Sunday, all export-based industries and factories would remain outside the purview of the lockdown.