The Covid-19 has begun spreading in densely populated slums of Dhaka, with the first-ever case having been found in Mohammadpur Geneva Camp, home to around 50,000 stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh. Yet, slum dwellers are little concerned about a high risk of infection there.
On Saturday, a 90-year-old retired government employee, who resides with his son at Juhuri Mohallah Staff Quarter in the congested camp, tested positive for coronavirus.
He is now undergoing treatment at the Kurmitola General Hospital, confirmed his son seeking anonymity as he is also a government employee. The son is now in isolation while the Directorate General of Health Services was supposed to collect samples from five other members of the family on Monday.
The maiden Covid-19 case in the Geneva Camp has raised concern because infections may escalate very quickly in all other overcrowded slums in Dhaka.
Nearly 6.5 lakh poor people reside in around 3,400 slums in the capital, Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperative Minister Tajul Islam had told the parliament last year.
Male members of these slums are mostly rickshaw-pullers, security guards and day-wage workers while females work as house helps. These urban poor, with little or no education, are hardly aware of health safety issues.
On Sunday, this correspondent visited several slums in the Dhaka North City Corporation areas. In Geneva Camp, government officials were campaigning on loudspeakers to raise awareness among the residents.
But it seemed to have hardly any impact on the locals as they were either roaming or gossiping in groups here and there without wearing any safety equipment.
They said putting on facemasks or maintaining social distancing was a "luxury" to them as they were staying in a cram-full place.
"Most rooms in the camp are around 80 square feet. How is it possible for 7-8 people to stay inside a room at the same time?" Mansur Alam, a camp resident, told this correspondent.
M Shawkat Ali, general secretary of the camp unit of Stranded Pakistanis' General Repatriation Committee, echoed Mansur and said, "As a result, the area is now highly vulnerable to the coronavirus infection."
The situation in other slums
The other slum-dwellers in the north city area are also exposed to a high risk of Covid-19 infection as almost all of them do not maintain social distancing, use protective gears or wash their hands regularly.
On Sunday, the dwellers of Mohakhali's Korail slum, the largest in Dhaka with more than one lakh population, were seen leading their daily life as usual: making crowds and moving in and out frequently without wearing face masks.
Monir Hossain, a private car driver, said that it was extreme poverty and lack of education that drove most of the slum-dwellers to total unawareness about the novel coronavirus.
"If anyone gets infected, it will take a very little time to spread to the whole area as the slum is very densely populated," said Monir, he himself, however, wearing a mask.
The picture of Chand Miah slum in Mohammadpur was also similar as the residents, mostly youths, were gossiping sitting at different tea stalls.
Anwar Hossain, a truck driver now rendered jobless due to the nationwide shutdown, was also sitting at a tea stall putting on a facemask.
He said they knew about the coronavirus outbreak but relied mostly on the mercy of the Almighty.
"If Allah wants, none of us will be able to stop the disease," said Anwar, adding that he wore masks only when he went out on streets.
Dhaka North City Corporation's Chief Health Officer Brigadier General Mominur Rahman Mamun told The Business Standard that they were working to create awareness about the health issues through non-government organisations in slum areas in the north city areas.