Although there were initial reports of people trying to defy the lockdown, things appeared calm by the end of the first week. However, there is no sign of the infection abating
Monjurul Kader, a designated volunteer in the locked down area of Wari, received a call at 3am in the morning.
"The caller was a resident asking how to find chicken at that hour. At first, I was shocked and then I laughed," said Monjurul.
Ultimately he couldn't deliver the chicken, for obvious reasons. But such requests have become quite commonplace for the nearly 200 volunteers who are helping the law enforcers enforce the lockdown to red zone of Wari.
Since March, Covid-19 has left a tremendous negative impact on the Bangladeshi economy. Faced with such a reality, the government reopened the economy on May 30 after more than two months of 'general holidays'. However, as the country is nowhere near flattening the curve, the government has adopted a strategy of zonal lockdowns.
Government divided the whole country into three colour zones - red, green, and yellow, to control the infection and death rates from Covid-19 more effectively. Areas with 60 infections per 100,000 of population were designated as red zone. At least 45 areas were designated as red zones in Dhaka and they were queued for shutdown. Wari became the second area to go under lockdown on July 4.
East Rajabazar was the first area to go under zonal lockdown. The effectiveness of such zonal lockdowns remains under question, as, according to a BBC report, the number of infected patients in the area nearly doubled (74) after three weeks of lockdown - as initially it was 39.
This correspondent visited Wari on the ninth day of the lockdown. Although there were initial reports of people trying to defy the lockdown, things appeared calm by the end of the first week. However, there is no sign of the infection abating. According to officials on the control room coordinating the lockdown, more than 100 patients have been identified as Covid-19 positive when the number was 46 before the lockdown.
"Initially it was tough. The first two to three days were very difficult as people were constantly trying to violate lockdown rules. We were even threatened by powerful officials but we are still trying to fulfill our duties," Monjurul said.
Despite accepting their fate, people of Wari still appeared quite unhappy that they had been selected for the zonal lockdown.
"People of Wari are quite well-educated and informed. Since lockdown, they were not visible even on the busiest streets of this area because we know the importance of following rules. But just pushing an area into lockdown cannot lessen the effect of an outbreak. Because after lockdown, people will again come and go here, what will happen then? Ultimately, our sacrifice is not bringing any positive result for us or the city," said Sohan Mohaimenul, a chef by profession.
"Also due to this lockdown, I won't get paid this month for not being able to go to my workplace. But it's not just me, I personally know quite a few people who are facing this sort of economic hardship," he added.
Though the government has announced employees of private companies will fall under the provision of general holidays, many employers have been unwilling to sanction such a long vacation of 21 days. Many businessmen or service holders left the area before lockdown.
Predominantly, the residential areas of this elite neighbourhood of Old Dhaka have been locked down. The areas are Tipu Sultan Road, Jahangir Road, Dhaka-Sylhet Highway (Joykali Temple to Baldha Garden) in outer road and Lalmini road, Hare road, War road, Rankin Street, and Nawab St in inner Wari.
The whole area is encircled by 14 gates which are completely closed, except two. The gate at Rankin Street is being used as the entrance while the Hot Cake intersection gate is being used as the exit. Each gate has booths and equipment to disinfect people and vehicles.
The no 41 ward council is implementing the lockdown under guidance of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). Police and army have been deployed in the area but the volunteers are also playing a crucial role.
Receptions have been set up in front of each gate where people are registering their information while passing through; deliveries are awaiting clearance and above all, the volunteers are answering all sorts of enquiries.
Despite the lockdown, healthcare professionals and emergency patients such as pregnant women, patients on dialysis or individuals with heart disease have been excluded from these restrictions.
Band of volunteers
"My relative has sent mangoes from Rajshahi. I need to take those from the courier office otherwise those will be rotten," a woman was requesting a volunteer who was having a hard time making her understand this was not an emergency.
Just like that woman, many people were leaving no stone unturned to come up with excuses to go outside despite having necessary services inside the area.
Working with the E-commerce association of Bangladesh, the ward has permitted some online shops to sell daily necessities every day from morning till 4 pm. All the dispensaries are open too.
Besides, the councilor of ward no 41, Sarwar Hossain Alo, is distributing vegetable among the impoverished for free as their earnings have come to halt in the lockdown. Every morning the volunteers distribute vegetables from the "Free vegetable distribution point" - where anybody can take whatever they need.
"Most of the people have supported and praised our work. Only 10-20 percent of people among this huge population sometimes make our work difficult," said another volunteer working at Rankin Street gate, Md Mamun Khan.
Around 200 volunteers are playing a very crucial role working in three shifts for 24 hours to make this initiative successful. The volunteers themselves are residents of this area, mostly engaged in working at the ward councilor's office. Other than that, individuals from ward Awami League and Shecchashebok League have also been recruited for this work.
The whole operation is being monitored by a control room set up at Wari High School and the volunteers are divided into four groups for: gate surveillance, goods delivery, coordination, and monitoring.
"As people are locked inside, these volunteers are trying to make things easy for them. However, sometimes the work gets difficult because their demands get weird," said Monjurul.
Monjurul continued, "We are here to serve their necessities 24/7. I got a call once asking for a specific brand of bread which was not available near this area. Another person asked for breakfast items at lunchtime – where will I get them?"
Apart from the local volunteers, members of the Red Crescent Society are also working at the gates.
"We are assisting the city corporation with enforcing the lockdown properly. For the first few days, we made announcements around the whole area urging people to stay home. We helped them to understand the rules and the importance of this lockdown," said a member of the Red Crescent Society.
Working in such close proximity around a Covid-19 cluster, the risk of being infected is always high.
Md Mamun said, "Yes, but until now, none of us have been infected. And we hope we will stay fit since we are maintaining proper health guidelines."
When the lockdown to stem the spread of the virus began, the DSCC set up a novel coronavirus testing booth and isolation center inside the lockdown area. The Wari Girls' Government Primary School is being used as the sample collection center where two technologists from BRAC are working. After collection, the samples are sent to the IEDCR for testing and the whole process is completely free of charge. However, there is still no sign that the infection rate has decreased.
Silverdale Preparatory & Girls High School has been set up as the primary isolation center for treatment of Covid-19. Patients are also receiving treatment from their home isolation. Apart from that, Dhaka Mohanagar General Hospital is the designated Covid-19 hospital for intensive care.
Two ambulances are on stand-by for the service of residents - one is for novel coronavirus patients and the other is for regular emergencies.
Too much leisure time
Inside the area, the residents are not allowed to move around except for essential work. A few were seen buying goods or idling around. Most of the streets were empty, as there were many days still to go before the lockdown ended.
Yet, amidst the tall list of complaints, another local expressed a completely different view towards the lockdown.
Md Monir Hossain, who has been living at Joginogor Lane of Wari for over 50 years, witnessed every transformation of Wari after independence.
"For the first time in years, the environment of this area is taking me back to my childhood. Wari had lost its charm, peace and serenity to so-called modernisation. I am reminded of the old days when we didn't have high rise commercial buildings. Instead, everybody knew each other and lived peacefully."
"I used to play cricket on this street. My school was just around the corner. For some days now, we have less pollution and noise – most importantly we feel secure. It's a whole other environment. Only people of my generation can understand that."
The lockdown is due to last till July 25. After that, it might be extended if the virus is not curbed. However, the authorities and locals are hopeful about fighting through the lockdown and the battle against Covid-19. And for rest of the capital, who will go under lockdown next has not been decided as yet.