An extremely overcrowded ferry at Shimulia in Munshiganj district of Bangladesh on May 12 as millions in the Muslim-majority country head home to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr. (Photo: Piyas Biwas)
Defying a nationwide lockdown in Bangladesh, millions of people have headed home to rural areas from cities to celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr festival in packed ferries and boats, sparking fears of a deadly upsurge in Covid-19 cases.
The Muslim-majority nation will celebrate one of Islam’s holiest festivals on May 14, marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It is customary for people to head to their home villages to celebrate the feast with family and relatives.
The rush reached its peak on May 12 and five people died in a stampede on an extremely overcrowded ferry at Shimulia jetty in Munshiganj district.
Bangladesh has been in lockdown since April 5 to curb rising cases and deaths from the second wave of the pandemic.
The country of more than 160 million has registered 770,000 cases and 12,045 cases so far.
The government imposed restrictions on public movement but was forced to allow public transport on a limited scale under pressure from people and transport union leaders this week.
You could infect your father, mother, grandparents, brother, sister and others
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appealed to people not to risk their lives by rushing to villages for the Eid festival.
"I know people are rushing to their villages ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr. You may be exposed to coronavirus on the ferry or in the vehicle on your way — as you don't know who is infected — and you could infect your father, mother, grandparents, brother, sister and others. You could infect them and put their lives at risk," Hasina said on May 9.
The request was in vain as millions took private vehicles and walked on foot to head home this week.
Monirul Islam, 32, a Muslim and migrant worker in capital Dhaka, said he is not bothered about Covid-19 as he is desperate to visit his family in a village in Kushtia district some 250 kilometers away.
“Every year I go to my village to celebrate Eid with my family. I have bought new clothes for my father, mother and sister and I am going on a four-day vacation,” Islam told UCA News.
“There are diseases, but it is not possible for me to celebrate Eid without family and relatives. Life cannot go on if we live in fear of Covid-19. Eid is a holy day and on that I will pray to Allah for Covid-19 to end soon.”
The Eid exodus has panicked health experts and observers who fear Bangladesh’s relative success in battling the pandemic will end after Eid.
“The failure to predict such a mad rush and effective planning to tackle the situation will be fatal and the country will suffer for badly for this. We have not learned any lesson from what is happening in the neighboring country [India],” Dr. Benazir Ahmed, former director of the Department of Disease Control of Health Ministry, told UCA News.
Lily A. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Health Care Commission, is also worried.
“We know people in Bangladesh traditionally go home to celebrate religious festivals with family, so the government should have imposed an absolute lockdown even by force or it should have ensured strict adherence to hygiene rules for everyone heading home. There is absolute fear about a rise in infections and deaths, and the blame will be on the government if that happens,” Gomes told UCA News.