The Financial Express

Bangladesh under 'hard' lockdown

Banks, bourses to remain open on limited scale

| Updated: April 14, 2021 20:59:00

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A weeklong 'hard' lockdown begins across the country from today (Wednesday) in an effort to contain the deadly SARS-CoV-2 virus.

All modes of transports, public and private offices, shops and business establishments will remain shut during the period. However, mills and factories have been allowed to operate, complying strictly with the health guidelines.

In a last moment change in its earlier decision, the central bank asked all scheduled banks to make transactions for a limited period during normal days of the lockdown period. Similarly, the securities regulator also changed its stance and decided to keep the bourses operational for a limited time.

On Tuesday, there was a mad rush of people, especially those from the lower-income groups, to leave Dhaka for their home districts. They availed the services of different modes of transports paying very exorbitant fares.

They were using cars, microbuses, CNG-run autorickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles, human hauler, trucks, lorries and pickup vans.

The law enforcers were indifferent to what had been happening around them. Such a stance has irked the healthcare professionals. The latter have expressed the fear that the mad rush of people to go to outside districts might further spread the virus at various corners of the country.

The roads and lanes leading to the terminals and exit points of the capital witnessed nagging traffic congestion on Tuesday.

The transport cost of the passengers increased by three to four times. Many of the home-bound people, usually low-income daily earners, were seen travelling on foot to go home fearing a further extension of the lockdown after April 21.

"Local mini buses are charging Tk 1,100 for going to Sirajganjas compared to only Tk 350 charged by the inter-city bus companies in normal situation. So, I decided to go on foot as far as I can," said Imran Hossain, a cigarette and betel leaf vendor in the city.

He said that the last year's lockdown was a terrifying experience for him as he remained stranded in the city.

"I had to start begging for food while I couldn't send money to my family at Jamtoli in Sirajganj," he said."To avoid such a situation, I'm leaving the city on foot."

Md Selimuzzaman, a rickshaw-puller, was leaving the city on a pickup van that brought vegetables to Karwan Bazar on the day. He said the pickup van driver is charging Tk 800 to go to Mithapukur in Rangpur. More than 20 passengers were travelling without masks.

Meanwhile, kitchen markets, groceries, departmental stores, shopping malls, the city's key shopping markets like Newmarket, its adjacent Chandrima, Gausia, Chadnichwak, Nilkhet, markets in old part of Dhaka like Chawkbazar, Islampur, Sadarghat, Shakharipotti, and other places witnessed a huge rush of customers who were seen desperate to complete their shopping before the evening.

The banks also saw a huge rush of their clients, most of them withdrawing money.

Health guidelines were totally ignored, further intensifying the fears of spreading the virus.

However, the commerce ministry's control cell has opened a help box for traders for smooth production, import, transportation and marketing of daily essentials. The ministry has given the numbers (01712168917, 01738195106, 01756173560) to inform about any problem.

Expressing dissatisfaction over the people's desperation, secretary general of Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) Dr Md EhteshamulHuq Choudhury said the government should have prevented such risky moves before imposing measures like lockdown.

He said that Dhaka city is identified as one of the high-risk areas of the country because of higher infections and fatalities.

"But what we saw for the last few days is very dangerous because people from the risky zones have been moving to various corners of the country which are not as risky as Dhaka. It means we are allowing the virus to travel to the countryside," he added.

Under such circumstances, Mr Choudhury suggested strictly following the quarantine rules for people going outside from Dhaka to avert the spread.

"I hope the government has learnt from its previous mistakes and will behave accordingly. People must realise that all the arrangements are taken for their safeguard. If they do not cooperate, it will be very tough to attain the goal of the lockdown," he added.

On the other hand, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Benazir Ahmed on the day warned the people of not coming outside their houses without valid reasons during the 'hard' lockdown days.

"We don't want to see anyone (on the streets) unnecessarily, and we don't want to put any pressure because we need to stop the spread," he said while inaugurating the "movement pass" app at a programme in Dhaka's Rajarbaghon the day.

The app will be the platform through which people in Dhaka city can receive permission to go out for emergencies during the weeklong strict restrictions.

On the day of inauguration, there has been a rush for pass applications as the system received some 15,000 applications per minute, seeking advance permission.

On the other hand, the Bangladesh Bank (BB) on Tuesday backtracked from its previous position regarding the closure of all bank branches across the country from today (April 14). It has now allowed banking transactions in a limited scale from tomorrow (Thursday), as April 14 (Wednesday) is a public holiday.

The BB, through a circular issued on Tuesday, said banking transactions would continue for clients between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm from Thursday.

All authorised dealer branches across the country would remain open from Thursday. If there are two branches of any bank located within two kilometres in a city area, one would remain open for transactions during the lockdown.

Mr Sirzaul Islam, the BB spokesperson, told the FE: "From Thursday, the banks will remain open for three hours in each working day during the lockdown period."

The Cabinet Division asked the central bank on Tuesday to operate banking activities for limited hours, considering people's sufferings during the countrywide lockdown, which started from today (Wednesday).

The BB Department of Off-site Supervision issued a circular on Tuesday regarding the latest development.

It also said the banks would take necessary safety and protection measures for their employees and clients during the banking hours.

However, many bankers expressed their frustration over the development on Tuesday evening.

They said they had made plans on handling ATMs and other digital systems during the banks' closure amid the lockdown.

Syed Mahbubur Rahman, CEO and managing director of Mutual Trust Bank Limited told the FE: "We have already filled all ATMs with cash, as the first lockdown day (April 14) has coincided with Pohela Boishakh."

He said it was very much challenging for them, because some ATMs were located much away from branches.

"Now we have to manage funds again for Thursday," he noted.

The country's both bourses will conduct transactions for three hours during the strict lockdown, as the banks will remain open during the same period.

The Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC) took the decision on Tuesday, as the central bank changed the decision of keeping the banks closed.

"Both the bourses will conduct transactions for three hours from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm," said BSEC Chairman Prof. Shibli Rubayat Ul Islam.

He said it would take half an hour for completing the settlement of the transactions, conducted on the bourses.

"That's why, transactions will be conducted until 1:00 pm, and settlement will be completed within the next half an hour," he added.

Mamun-Ur-Rashid, managing director of the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE), also said they would conduct transactions for three hours until 1:00 pm during the lockdown.

Transactions, however, would remain closed on the bourses today (Wednesday) due to public holiday on the occasion of Pohela Boishakh.

However, Covid-19 claimed 69 more lives and infected 6028 people afresh in Bangladesh during the last 24 hours until 8:0am on Tuesday.

Both the day's fatalities and new infections showed comparatively downwards over that of the previous day, according to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) data.

The DGHS reported 83 deaths from coronavirus and 7201 new cases on Monday.

The daily new caseload and death toll from Covid-19 maintained a sustained rise in the recent times, which prompted the government to impose a weeklong 'hard lockdown' across the country from today (Wednesday) to check further spread of the virus.

With the latest daily count, total fatalities from coronavirus stood at 9891 since the virus was first detected in the country in March last, said a DGHS press release.

However, the rate of fatalities from coronavirus remained static at1.42 per cent on Tuesday.

According to the DGHS figures, a total of 32955 samples were tested, including antigen-based rapid tests, while some 33618 samples were collected across the country during the last 24-hour reporting time.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Shop Owners' Association on Tuesday demanded that the government allow shopping malls and other shops to resume operations after the end of the seven-day lockdown starting today (Wednesday).

The leaders of the association said shop owners would maintain proper health guidelines while operating their respective businesses, in a bid to minimise the transmission of coronavirus.

The demand was placed at a press conference arranged by the association at a restaurant in the city's Moghbazar area, according to a press release.

The association's president Md Helaluddin and secretary general Jahirul Haque Bhuiyan were present at the event.

Referring that many businesses became bankrupt due to the pandemic last year, Mr Helaluddin said if the lockdown remained in force for long for the shops, many owners would not be able to recover the losses.

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