DHAKA, Bangladesh

Bangladesh will partly ease a more than two-month lockdown due to the novel coronavirus after May 31 for the sake of the country’s economy, a top government official said Wednesday.  

The country initially imposed the nationwide lockdown on March 26 to stem the spread of the coronavirus and it was later extended several times until May 30. 

“We have decided to withdraw the nationwide lockdown on a limited scale to resume the country’s economic activities like most of the European and Western countries,” State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain told Anadolu Agency. 

He added that a government gazette in this regard will be published Thursday after final approval from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. 

Experts, however, have expressed concern that the move may exacerbate the coronavirus outbreak in the overcrowded nation of nearly 165 million people. 

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, the leader of a local medical doctors’ foundation, Dr. Shahed Pavel, said they had urged the government to continue the lockdown for at least 15 more days after the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday to stem the spread of the virus. 

“But citing the country’s economic interests, the government has not granted our appeal. Now I earnestly request to ensure social distancing and health guidelines,” Pavel said. 

“Otherwise, the lethal pandemic may spread on a massive scale within a short time span.” 

Concerns over surging pandemic 

Bangladesh is experiencing a surging trend in COVID-19. 

As of Wednesday a total of 544 people have died from the coronavirus since the country’s first death was confirmed on March 18. Of these, 275 succumbed to the virus in the last two weeks, according to government data.

More than 38,000 cases have been registered since the country’s first three cases were reported on March 8. 

Dr. Pavel warned that any breach of social distancing rules and health guidelines due to the partial easing of the lockdown “may cause the outbreak to get out of control very rapidly.” 

Hossain, however, assured that all relevant branches of the government, including the civil administration and law enforcers, will remain on the highest level of alert to contain any violations of social distancing rules. 

“During the two-month-long lockdown, almost 95% of the people have become accustomed to COVID-19 health rules,” he said, adding that as additional precautionary measures, “all sorts of educational institutes will remain closed until June 15 and long-routed public transport on roads, water and railways will remain shut until further notice.” 

“Only a limited number of public vehicles will be allowed on roads in cities including the capital Dhaka on condition of strict maintenance of social distancing and health guidelines.” 

He added that no elderly, sick and pregnant workers at any government and non-government offices will be allowed. 

“Airline services will also resume on a limited scale after May 30, strictly following the health guidelines.” 

Economy should not be prioritized over lives 

Noted economist and former advisor to the caretaker government A.B. Mirza Azizul Islam said “there is no alternative to easing the lockdown” for the survival of Bangladeshi products on the world market, especially the country’s main exporting readymade garments (RMG). 

“Bangladesh is a country with a poor economy. More than 5 million people are working in the transport sector and 4 million in the RMG industry. A long-term lockdown may seriously endanger their livelihood,” he said. 

“But it does not mean that the economy should be prioritized over lives”, Islam said, adding that banks, industries and transportation need to be resumed “for survival, but the government must ensure social distancing and other COVID-19 health rules.”

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