PM: Strictly enforce social distancing

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‘Unofficial lockdown’ from Tuesday

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has ordered strict enforcement of social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak as fears of community transmission run deep.

During the weekly cabinet meeting on Monday, she gave a set of instructions, which included shutting down apparel factories, curbing congregation in places of worship, and the release of some 3000 prisoners.

The prime minister also ordered “unofficial lockdowns” in some areas of the country, people familiar with the matter told Dhaka Tribune.

She instructed all garment factories to be closed, except for those producing masks and personal protection equipment (PPEs), according to them.

Monday’s meeting at the prime minister’s official residence of Ganabhaban was attended by only seven ministers and the premier, sources told Dhaka Tribune.

According to them, the prime minister came down hard on Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi over BGMEA going soft on errant factory owners who kept their plants open.

“You, Salam Murshedi and BGMEA president have messed this up. Your attempts will result in spreading coronavirus from Dhaka to all over the country,” she was quoted as saying, by a cabinet member, who asked not to be named.

Hundreds of workers headed back to Dhaka from different parts of the country since early April 3 to join work the next day, sparking fears of contagion.

In his defence, Commerce Minister Munshi said he had no knowledge of the decision by BGMEA leaders.

“I do not know anything. It was the BGMEA leaders, who decided to keep their factories open. I had nothing to do [with that],” businessman-turned-politician and former BGMEA president Munshi was quoted as saying. 

‘Unofficial lockdown in crucial April’

Sources said the cabinet expressed concerns over the coronavirus outbreak as the possibility of community transmission is high in April.

The prime minister instructed the home ministry to order law enforcement to go for strict implementation of minimizing the movement of people and ensuring social distancing.

No one will be allowed to leave their homes unless it is an emergency, she said, before instructing the home minister to set timings for shops, superstores, and kitchen markets. 

A cabinet member, asking not to be named, told Dhaka Tribune: “We are not announcing it, but the country will go on an unofficial lockdown from tomorrow [Tuesday].”

The prime minister also ordered a lockdown of areas which have been affected by Covid-19.

The cabinet decided to lock down some areas in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Madaripur, and Gaibandha districts, to contain further spread of the novel coronavirus.

Release of prisoners

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told the cabinet meeting that the prison authorities have already forwarded a list of 3,000 inmates.

According to media reports, the prime minister has okayed the proposal and ordered the preparation of a guideline for their release.

However, prisoners convicted or facing trial on charges like murder and rape will not be released. The proposal focuses on inmates convicted of minor offences and those who have served most of their terms.

Briefing the media at the Secretariat later on Monday, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam said the virus situation has worsened and it’s not possible to contain without the people’s support.

“The Cabinet has repeatedly urged people to maintain social distancing and quarantine. Or else, it’ll in no way be possible to control it,” UNB quoted him as saying during the media call.