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Bangladeshi Catholics wary as services resume

Churches resume Masses after a two-month break as the government lifts its shutdown despite a Covid-19 surge

Bangladeshi Catholics wary as services resume

Catholics are seen after Sunday Mass at Mary, Queen Assumed into Heaven Catholic Church in Gopalpur of Natore district on May 31. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

The Bangladesh government’s decision to lift a nationwide shutdown and resume normal life despite surging Covid-19 cases and deaths has divided opinions in the Muslim-majority country.

The shutdown launched on March 26 officially ended on May 30.

Churches resumed Masses on May 31 after a two-month suspension. Public and private offices reopened on May 31 and public transport including buses, trains and ferries started on a limited scale from June 1.

The government ordered strict social distancing measures and health guidelines including use of masks, gloves and sanitizers to be followed everywhere.

Public transport vehicles were ordered to operate at half of passenger capacity, while bus fares were raised by about 60 percent on May 31 despite public uproar.

Reports on television and in newspapers showed that in many places health guidelines and social distancing were not followed amid a rush of passengers.

Bangladesh has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths. On May 31, it recorded 2,545 confirmed cases and 40 deaths in just 24 hours. It had reported a total of 49,534 infections and 672 deaths as of June 1.

Shohidul Islam, 30, a marketing officer with a real estate company in capital Dhaka, criticized the decision to lift the lockdown.

“This is ridiculous. When Covid-19 confirmed cases and the death toll are rising day by day, the government has decided to go back to normal life,” Islam told UCA News.

“We are at high risk due to the government's wrong decision. We demand safety in our lives so that we can live with our families without fear."

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Bishop Sebastian Tudu of Dinajpur expressed similar sentiments. “Of course, this decision is alarming for us and we are afraid. The government should reconsider it," he told UCA News.

Churches reopen

In various parts of Bangladesh, churches have reopened and resumed Masses after nearly two months, starting with Sunday liturgy on May 31.

Churches were seen following heath guidelines and some increased the number of Masses to maintain physical distancing

Francis Rozario, 50, a Catholic from Maria Virgo Potens Church in Natore district, said he was happy to attend Sunday Mass after a break of two months, but he was still concerned about Covid-19.

“We are happy but also concerned. I attended the Mass with fear. I don't know who is Covid-19 positive or negative. Also, it is not possible in our culture to maintain social distancing as we believe in friendly living. If anyone comes to me, I cannot move away from him,” Rozario told UCA News.

Bishop Tudu said churches were told to maintain health guidelines from the government and the World Health Organization to ensure the safety of people. 

“We announced that all churches must maintain health guidelines and provide soap so that people can wash their hands before entering," the prelate said.

"But we are still observing the situation and if needed we will close churches again and request our people to pray at home."

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