DHAKA, Bangladesh

Police in Bangladesh remain the group most exposed to the novel coronavirus as they work in the field maintaining order despite risking infection.

The number of police who have been infected has already topped 3,500 nationwide and at least 13 have succumbed to the disease, including dozens of top officials.

But members of the police force are being lauded on social media because of the dedication they have shown in carrying out their duties while putting their lives and those of their families at risk of infection.

While people are steering clear from anyone suspected of contracting COVID-19 in such a situation, most of the roughly 200,000 members of the country’s police force have been involved in the war against the coronavirus since March, said officials.

Police sub-inspector Imran Hossain is part of the anti-coronavirus team at Motihar Police Station in Rajshahi district in mid-western Bangladesh and has been working to help people amid the outbreak for months.

He told Anadolu Agency that recently his team were informed that a man had been discovered unconscious near the police station and people were not going near him because they suspected him of being infected.

“I along with some of my colleagues wearing protective gear immediately rushed to the spot and took the victim to the hospital, where a doctor declared him dead. The doctor said the man had died before being taken to the hospital.

“He said the man, however, did not die from the coronavirus, but the fear of being infected prompted people not to come close to him and extend help,” he said.

Appreciation from different sections 

“In such a situation, the police have become a source of trust when even family members often afraid of coming close to coronavirus patients,” said Mahtab Bin Hossain, a resident of Dhaka.

Hossain, who recently visited his village in Barisal district in south-central Bangladesh and got stuck there because of the nationwide lockdown, said police personnel are also working in their village and surrounding towns to help people understand the health guidelines and raise awareness as those living in remote areas are not aware enough to comply with the guidelines amid the outbreak.

Stories have also gone viral on social media of those lauding the struggle by police to support their countrymen amid the outbreak, including helping coronavirus patients get to healthcare facilities, receive financial and food assistance and ensure that they maintain social distancing.

Dr. ASM Alamgir, chief virologist at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said “the dedication of the police in such a situation has changed people’s view of the force positively based on field experience across the country because of their huge efforts to support people.”

“The Bangladesh police are the most dedicated government force,” he said, adding that they have eased the tough job of health workers in such a situation to fight the coronavirus.

Alamgir said police personnel are being infected more compared to others as they have to deal with people and situations outside and maintain law and order while people still do not care enough to maintain social distancing and follow health guidelines.

He said the proper use of masks and washing one’s hands are very important, but those using personal protective equipment (PPE) sometimes infect people if they do not get trained on how to wear PPE and take them off.

Besides, people’s behavior towards the police also needs to change as they have to deal with gatherings and maintaining law and order. Otherwise, the number of infections may rise further and the group remains vulnerable, he said.

Support for COVID-19 positive personnel

The number of police personnel infected by COVID-19 stands at 3,574, accounting for 11% of the country’s total as of Saturday. Around 722 personnel have recovered.

Among the total confirmed cases, some 1,300 were recorded among the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) alone, making it the most exposed police unit.

Rezaul Haque, assistant deputy commissioner at the DMP, is one of the coordinators at the DMP-run team set up to assist infected police personnel and civil staff in the police service.

“If any police member shows coronavirus symptoms, we arrange a sample test and bring him/her to the hospital, taking them in quarantine and isolation through our vehicles and standby ambulance,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“We have extended support to the families of corona positive police personnel and are taking care of their families, including providing financial assistance and food and protective items.”

Discharging duties amid insufficient protective gear

While police personnel are being appreciated for their job, there has been a longstanding allegation that they are facing an inadequate supply of safety gear including face masks and PPE as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and health experts.

As a result, infections among the police have increased manifold, said members of the force on condition of anonymity.

In response, Bangladesh police spokesperson Sohel Rana said: “The Bangladesh police have provided sufficient necessary protective gear including face masks, PPE and disinfectant to its members since the virus hit Bangladesh and the distribution is continuing on demand.”

Rejecting allegations of the distribution of substandard quality personal protective gear, the top police official said the force have been provided with the items of the highest standard available in the country.

“Besides, we have arrangements with healthcare facilities for our members if they become infected with COVID-19 in every division and with others, including large healthcare facilities in the capital Dhaka,” Rana added.

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