“Even if a single slum dweller gets infected by Covid-19, the consequences will be grave.”
Rita Aktar, a resident of Karail slum, an impoverished neighbourhood of Gulshan and Banani, had stopped her four-year-old son from going to school in fear of coronavirus outbreak a few days before the government shut down all educational institutions.
She had learnt about the virus outbreak through the internet. Media campaigns and household discussions also helped her understand the situation.
But Rita still feels concerned for her son's health because of the overcrowded and unhealthy environment of the slum.
"I ask my son not to communicate with other children. But how long can I control his movements?" Rita expressed her concerns on Wednesday when Bangladesh reported its first death from the coronavirus.
To prevent a possible coronavirus infection, the mother uses only soap to maintain hygiene.
Other families living in the slum have rarely taken any protective measures to fight the virus. Many of them are even unaware of the danger of a possible outbreak.
According to Dushtha Shasthya Kendra (DSK), a non-government organisation working for the health benefits of slum people, the population of Dhaka city slums is around 30 lakh. Of them, more than 1 lakh live at Karail.
"Even if a single slum dweller gets infected by Covid-19, the consequences will be grave," Dr Dibalok Singha, executive director of DSK, told The Business Standard.
Children and elderly people will be the worst victims, he added.
Almost all the Karail people are poor. The males are mostly CNG-run three-wheeler drivers, rickshaw-pullers, security guards and helping staff at different offices while the females mostly work as housemaids.
Nargis Begum, 45, who works as a babysitter at a Cabinet member's residence in Gulshan, said her employer advised her to use antiseptic liquid and hand sanitiser.
"I wash my floor with the antiseptic liquid. I also use it to bathe my daughter. But I have not used the sanitiser yet," she said.
Her husband Manu Hazi has a house at the Karail slum with seven rooms where at least 19 tenants live. They have only one bathroom and a latrine. There are only two stoves for cooking.
The crowded house has no option to isolate anyone in case of emergency. The house owner seems very reluctant about the possible threat of coronavirus outbreak.
"How many times can I wash my hands? This is impossible," he said when asked to wash his hands regularly.
Ansar Ali, owner of Osman Pharmacy at the slum, told The Business Standard, "The slum dwellers lack health consciousness. Health facilities are inadequate. A single case of coronavirus infection will take a huge toll."
According to Ansar, the breathing problem is common for the elderly slum dwellers while many children suffer from cold, fever and allergy during this time of year.
The Geneva Camp in Mohammadpur is another slum in the city where residents are living in a dire condition in five feet by three feet rooms, with an average of five to six members in each room.
The roughly 235,000 square feet area is one of 70 camps all over the country "with a population of 30,000-40,000 people", as per general secretary of the Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee, Showkat Ali.
The environment of the camp seems not much favourable for public health. Dustbins are scattered all of over the narrow roads of the camp. There are small hotels, many of which are by the side of the dustbins. Flies can be seen flying all over the places in the market place.
Corona's history tells us that this type of open market and densely populated places play a key role in spreading the virus.
No pharmacies inside the camp have hand-rubs. "Camp people here do not panic over coronavirus fear. Not so many people ask for sanitisers from me," said a pharmacy owner.
Nobody was seen aware of coronavirus or taking any measures though Showkat Ali claimed that they asked the camp people to stay clean through the loudspeakers of the mosques.
"No city corporation trash cars come inside the camp to take trash. Also, there are 120 common toilets in the camp, but no city corporation cleaners come to clean it. How could we maintain our hygiene without these things?" he said.
In Geneva Camp, children sell cotton candies and potato chips inside the camp and the surrounding areas which are generally overcrowded by people.
Their outfits and dirty hands prove that the children have little option to practise hygiene.
Nazrul Islam, former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, emphasised on mass awareness among the slum residents.
"Working people like transport staffers and domestic workers should wear facial masks during work time," Nazrul Islam told The Business Standard.
"They should wash hands properly at the entrance of their houses. The protective measures will save their family members and other neighbours," he concluded.