Two UK expatriates who were on mandatory institutional quarantine at Hotel Star Pacific in Sylhet city ‘forcibly’ went out on Tuesday morning.
After returning to the hotel around 6:30pm that day, they gave the excuse of going out to get haircuts.
However, a mobile court led by executive magistrate Md Mesbah Uddin sentenced the duo — Abdun Noor (42) and Alam Hasan Rouf (36) — to seven days’ imprisonment and fined them Tk 10,000 each.
Going out during quarantine and showing such excuses has been a common practice since the mandatory quarantine was enforced since January 1 this year, due to lax monitoring and an ineffective system in place.
“They have been making silly excuses to go out of hotel, no matter how hard we tried to make them aware of the situation,” said Shamma Labiba Arnab, assistant commissioner (Covid-19 and media cell) of Sylhet district administration.
After a new variant of Covid-19 was detected in the United Kingdom last year, the Cabinet Division on December 28 ordered that all passengers from UK are bound to stay in mandatory institutional quarantine.
The time period was 14 days first, which was later reduced to four days, and then extended to seven days on January 23.
Since January 4, around 2,861 passengers from the UK came to Bangladesh through Sylhet airport till March 22. Except 40 passengers having Covid-19 negative certificates, all others were sent to ten hotels for institutional quarantine.
The hotels are Britannia (now excluded, after contract was cancelled), Anurag, Noorjahan Grand, Holy Gate, Holy Side, Star Pacific, La Rose, La Vista, Rainbow Guest House and Royal Plum.
The hotels’ management, with the police personnel posted at the premises, were ordered to ensure quarantine of passengers properly. However, the system has been flawed since the beginning.
The first flaw was exposed on March 21, after a nine-member family violated quarantine rules and went out of Hotel Britannia to visit an ailing relative.
The district administration that night fined five adults of the family Tk 3,000 each and another adult Tk 5,000, and cancelled its contract with the hotel.
A day later, another incident at Hotel La Vista was exposed.
At the hotel, a wedding ceremony of a UK returnee was arranged on March 20, which was attended by around 50 guests.
However, no legal action was taken against the UK expatriates, the attendees and the hotel authority.
Sumath Nuri Jewel, president of Sylhet Hotel and Guest House Owners’ Association, said, “Since the beginning of the discussion, we’ve been telling the administration that the quarantine must be maintained and monitored by the administration itself. But they gave that responsibility to hotel authorities.”
“Due to negligent monitoring, the boarders in quarantine found ways to go out, and the whole system collapsed,” he said, adding that the expatriates mostly believe that everything is possible in Bangladesh, and the system let that happen.
Faruque Mahmud Chowdhury, president of Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik’s (Shujan) Sylhet chapter, said, “There’s no use of law, if not enforced strongly. If the administration were able to enforce the law and order meant for mandatory institutional quarantine, the flaws would never have been created.”
BM Ashraf Ullah Taher, additional deputy commissioner of Sylhet Metropolitan Police, said, “We’ve assigned 48 officers to oversee the hotels 24/7, but it’s hard to properly monitor.”
“As most hotels did not dedicate a floor for quarantined boarders, and regular people are also boarding the establishments, police cannot properly keep track of those under quarantine. Most of the time, hotel management misguides duty officers, and sometimes, guests show permission of the civil surgeon to go out,” he said.
This correspondent could not contact the civil surgeon despite repeated phone calls.
M Kazi Emdadul Islam, deputy commissioner of Sylhet and president of the district committee for Covid-19 management, said, “As per the government’s new March 29 order to enforce health safety protocols more intensively, we’ve started taking stricter actions to ensure mandatory institutional quarantine.”
“The legal action of the mobile court on Tuesday is a signal for all to obey the law properly while staying in quarantine,” he said.
As of yesterday, 17,391 people have been infected with Covid-19, with 61 new cases detected in last 24 hours and 103 infected with Covid-19 were admitted at different hospitals.