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Commuters bear the brunt of it

by Istiak Ahmed Shimul

On the first day of the countrywide seven-day lockdown, port city commuters suffered immensely due to acute shortage of public transport.

For office-goers, the situation remained the same as the previous few days, as they were subjected to the demand of reaching their workplaces, which remained open even though there weren’t nearly enough transportation available.

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While visiting different areas including Bahaddarhat, Muradpur, Chawkbazar, Panchlaish, Rahattarpool, Katalganj, Badurtala, Kapasgola, and Chandpura, this correspondent found clusters of office goers waiting for a bus or a human haulier in every intersection throughout the day.

However, very few public transports were plying the roads, and they had to maintain the government mandated 50 percent seat capacity limit. As a result, rickshaws and motorbikes were seen dominating the roads.

Many bikers were seen carrying contracted passengers, but even that couldn’t balance out the overwhelming imbalance between passengers and their demand for a ride.

“Lockdown or no lockdown, my office is still open,” said a frustrated Minhaz Uddin Mahmud, who works at a private firm in Agrabad. “I have managed to come to Chawkbazar bus stand on a rickshaw half-an-hour ago. I’ve been waiting for some kind of a motorised vehicle ever since.”

Asked whether he knew public transports would be limited during the lockdown, he said, “Does it matter to me? I have to get to my office anyway. If the government didn’t want people to get out, why couldn’t it go for a complete shutdown and declare a general holiday?”

This correspondent then reminded him of the government’s instruction to keep offices open with limited staff and ensure their transportation by office vehicles. This astonished Minhaz.

“They will never do something like that until the government compels them to. But no such initiative from the government will be taken, and as always, we employees will have to bear the brunt,” he said.

“If the government wants to curb Covid-19 cases, it should go for all  out shutdown for at least two weeks,” said Bahaddarhat’s Rashed Mahmud,  another office goer. “You see how close people are standing, waiting for  vehicles. You see how shops are open, and people around them are  gossiping without their masks on. If people do not stay home, how will  the transmission be controlled?”

Meanwhile, almost 90 percent shops in main thoroughfares were closed, while roughly two-thirds of shops in the lanes and by lanes remained shut.

While mobile courts were seen in the main thoroughfares, the lanes and by lanes were almost without surveillance, this correspondent found.

At the city’s Oxygen intersection, executive magistrate Fahmida Afroz was conducting mobile court drives. She told this correspondent the court was fining Tk 100 for not wearing face masks.

Contacted, SM Nazer Hossain, central vice-president of Consumers Association of Bangladesh, said the government should ensure that private offices provide their staffers with vehicles during the lockdown.

“The government instructed all offices to run with limited staff and carry them with own vehicles, but there’s no monitoring of this. The district administration has to ensure it,” he said.

Echoing the same, Dr Mahfuzur Rahman, convener of Public Health Right Protection Committee, Chattogram, said alongside the main roads, the government has to ensure lockdown in lanes and by lanes, otherwise the number of cases will not be curbed.

Local committees in every area should be involved in this regard, he said.

Contacted, Sumani Akter, additional district magistrate of Chattogram, said mobile courts cannot go to every vicinity due to resource limitations, and so pubic awareness is key to the success of the lockdown.

“When the government announces lockdown, that means it passes a signal to everyone that the situation is alarming. Everyone has a role to play in that,” she said.

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