Crowded travel hubs increase the chance of Covid-19 transmission. But the crowd was waiting for the bus with little sense of personal space
Usually going to work for Apurbo Ibrahim is a no brainer. He takes a bus at 10 in the morning from his local bus stop at Pallabi of the capital and after a 45-minute journey gets off at his destination at Maghbazar.
Yes, the buses are crowded and dirty and uncomfortable but taking an Uber ride daily is not an option on his salary.
But with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country with alarmingly rising numbers of infections and deaths everyday, he was not so sure on Monday if taking the bus was a good idea.
The seats in the bus were all occupied, as usual, in the morning rush. In fact, there was hardly any standing room in there.
"Some 40 to 45 passengers were on my bus. All other buses on the streets were also full of passengers," said Apurbo. "I had to jostle with others to get on."
His discomfort was increased by his sudden awareness of people's casual attitude about even the basics of health and hygiene during the time of coronavirus and their lack of knowledge about how to stay safe during the virulent pandemic.
Crowded travel hubs increase the chance of Covid-19 transmission. But the crowd was waiting for the bus with little sense of personal space.
In a time when the pandemic experts were advising practicing social distancing, maintaining a minimum distance of 2 metres from others, they were standing shoulder to shoulder.
"People were sneezing and coughing randomly without taking basic precautions. None of them were using a tissue while sneezing or coughing."
Like Apurbo, numerous other people were taking crowded buses or shopping in the kitchen markets on Monday in and outside of Dhaka.
Even though the WHO and global health experts have been urging all to observe some basic safety measure when in crowded places, it is being ignored nonchalantly across the country.
Meanwhile, the government on Monday announced All government and private offices will remain shut from March 26 to April 4 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam made the announcement.
Only kitchen markets, hospitals and other emergency services will remain open during this time.
He also urged people not to come out of home unless it is an emergency and advised all to maintain enough protective measures while using public transports.
Monday the army was called to be deployed across the country to enforce social distancing rules.
"The members of the Armed Forces will help the local administrations as per their requirement," Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam made the announcement in a briefing on Monday.
So far, the authorities did not enforce social distancing rules. It instead had given only advice urging people to skip crowded places.
People in Chattogram, Dinajpur, Mymensingh, Jashore, Rangpur, Netrokona and Satkhira were found either traveling crowded public buses or shopping at kitchen markets on Monday.
A large number of people went about a kitchen market in Tangail city to buy their daily essentials, apprehensive of a lockdown soon as partial lockdowns have come into effect in different places in the country.
Earlier, in the Tolarbag area of Mirpur in the capital, 672 families in 40 buildings came under a lockdown order on march 21 after two elderly residents, close neighbours and frequenting the same mosque, died there just a day apart of coronavirus.
At least two other areas in the country, first Shibchar of Madaripur, and then Sadullapur of Gaibandha came under lockdown orders to keep social transmision of the deadly virus in check.
The Sadullapur lockdown order, however, was later termed a "mistake" by the DC and cancelled.
Many commuters have to ride crowded buses everyday to go to work even though the risk of contracting the deadly virus in a public transport increases upto six times more according to research published in BMC Infectious Diseases website.
"Buses or any other public vehicles where many people travel together should be disinfected after every trip if the authority is not stopping those from plying the streets, '' said Kinkar Ghosh, an epidemiologist of Dhaka Shishu Hospital.
Health experts across the world are constantly urging people to avoid public transportation whenever possible, work from home and skip social gatherings during the deadly pandemic.
"Every single reduction in the number of contacts you have per day with relatives, with friends, co-workers, in school will have a significant impact on the ability of the virus to spread in the population," said Dr. Gerardo Chowell, chair of population health sciences at Georgia State University.
"This strategy saved thousands of lives both during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and, more recently, in Mexico City during the 2009 flu pandemic, says a New York Times report.
To isolate people from one another, China had locked an entire province. This procedure has been used by Italy, Spain and some other countries by shutting down schools, colleges, shopping malls, factories, and public transportation.
In the latest action, Germany has expanded curbs on social interactions to try to contain the pandemic, banning public gatherings of more than two people. "Our own behavior is the most effective way of slowing the rate of infection," said German Chancellor Angela Market in a televised address.
British PM Boris Johnson warned of tougher measures if people failed to abide by the social distancing rule. The police force may be used to compel people to follow the rule, he said in his daily briefing.
In our neighbouring country India, the state government of Maharashtra imposed section 144 of CrPC prohibiting gathering of over five persons at public places.
The state transport and private bus services have been suspended completely. The only transport that will continue to operate is the intra-city bus services, which will only ferry staff of essential services, according to an announcement of the state government.
India's government on Sunday enforced people's curfew countrywide. As many as 80 cities across India went into lockdown till March 31.
Failure to abide by the social distancing rule may cause disaster in any corona affected country as it happened in Italy and China for their initial failure to enforce it.
Learning lessons from them, UK, Germany and some other countries are taking tougher measures to isolate people.
The countries fighting the pandemic learnt from China and Italy regarding isolating people to contain the spread of virus.
In countries like China and Italy, where people were not isolated immediately when just a few cases were reported, the number of infected people skyrocketed overnight.
"The reason for this is the virus' exponential growth trajectory. Studies so far suggest that on average patients infect two other people," says a report of Business Insider, a US news website.
Our local medical experts agree with it and have been urging the authorities and people to follow the social distancing rule.
"We have already been late to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. We don't know who is the carrier of the virus because of the limited number of tests. So allowing people to mingle freely will increase the risk further," said Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser of WHO's Southeast Asia region.
He said: "We should have taken stricter measures much earlier keeping people isolated. The pandemic situation may go beyond our control if we still are undecided to enforce strictly the social distancing rule."
Meanwhile, epidemiologist Kinkar Ghosh fears that community transmission is already taking place undetected. There have been reports of people coming down with Covid-19 infection even though the patients had not returned from abroad, nor had they come in contact with any returnees.
Outside of Dhaka, there is no Covid-19 testing facility and that means people with infection might go undetected.
Against this backdrop, a 15-day lockdown will help contain the spread of virus. "And such a decision should come into effect now… . A delayed action will be useless," Kinkar said.
Virologist Dr Saif Ullah Munshi of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University said keeping Dhaka under lockdown is difficult. "But at this moment Bangladesh must stop all inbound flights and place cities and towns outside Dhaka under lockdown to enforce social distancing," he said.