Dhaka residents, mostly office-goers, faced tremendous difficulties getting to their destinations on Wednesday as public transports did not carry passengers more than 50% of their capacity following government instruction.
The restrictions on carrying passengers came in the wake of the second wave Covid-19 infections, which reached the highest daily increase till date on Wednesday with 5,358 new infections.
The daily death toll from Covid-19 also crossed the 50 mark for the seventh time.
Many commuters were seen walking out of frustration on Wednesday morning since buses were not halting at the stops because there were no seats available.
However, the situation changed afterwards. As people were suffering due to bus shortage, some of them reportedly boarded buses forcibly, ignoring the government instructions on maintaining social distancing amid the recent spike in Covid-19 cases.
Buses of the state-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), in particular, were seen carrying passengers at almost full capacity and charging them double fares.
BRTC bus conductor Jasim Uddin told The Business Standard, "We did not force anyone to get on the bus. Passengers are forced to sit beside one another as they do not get the bus to their destinations."
When asked why he sat next to another passenger without maintaining social distancing, a BRTC bus passenger named Helal Uddin said he was compelled to do so because he had been waiting for two hours for a bus.
Another passenger Kibria Chowdhury expressed his annoyance saying the government is making people suffer financially by hiking bus fares.
Aminur Rahman, who came to Dhaka from Savar boarding a bus of Welcome Transport, told The Business Standard that he had to pay Tk65 instead of the usual fare of Tk40. Even then, he had to stand in a long queue for 30 minutes.
Rubel Hossain, another agitated commuter said, "There is no common sense behind the half passenger rule. What will another half of the office goers do during any urgency?"
Hossain Ali, a conductor of Welcome Transport, told TBS, "There is no scope for taking two passengers in side-by-side seats, as the police members are checking every once in a while."
"When such a rule was implemented last year, offices were closed unlike now," said Makhsud, a commuter, adding, "Markets, shopping malls, fairs are all open. People are bound to go out but there are no arrangements for more public transportation."
Meanwhile, agitated passengers blocked Airport road in Khilkhet area protesting the government decision to hike bus fares.
Golam Mostafa, inspector (traffic) of Shahbagh area said, "We have seen the notification, but we have yet to receive any instructions to look into the issue of rent and seat vacancy rules. We will take effective action in case of irregularities or inconsistencies when instructions are given."
Professor Dr Md Hadiuzzaman, a transport and communication specialist at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), told TBS that the government's decision would not work effectively at the passenger level. "This is because it is never possible to have half of the seats vacant without doubling the same number of public transports."
Not getting enough buses to travel, people will be forced to disobey the instructions.
He added that reducing the number of passengers by 50% without increasing the number of buses and raising the fare by 60% is becoming unbearable for low-income people. Because well-off people use private cars, they will not be affected.
"Due to this decision of the government, not only bus fares, but also fares of rickshaws, CNGs, human haulers, motorcycles, and all other modes of public transports are being increased because if people do not get buses, they will opt for alternative vehicles and will have to pay more money," added professor Hadiuzzaman.
Masud Ahmed, director (enforcement) of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) told TBS, "From today, mobile court teams are making announcements to raise public awareness about health safety. From next Sunday, the mobile courts would be very strict on monitoring transport fares, maintaining seat vacancy instructions, and social distancing."
He also mentioned that all types of professional ride-sharing will remain halted from Thursday.
The government ordered public transports to carry 50% passengers amid the rising trend of coronavirus infections. The decision has been taken to ensure passengers' health security. The mandate also followed an increase in the fare by 60%.
Launch fare also will be rescheduled for the coronavirus period as per the government directive to transport 50% passengers in public transport, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said Wednesday.
Daily cases hit record high, deaths jumps to 52
Meanwhile, the country on Wednesday registered 5,358 new cases of Covid-19, which is the highest in a single day till date.
Besides, the country reported 52 more deaths from the novel coronavirus, which is the highest daily figure since 26 August last year. On 26 August, the health department reported 54 deaths from the virus.
Fatalities from the coronavirus infection have surpassed the grave 9,000-mark in the country. The number of cases now stands at 611,295, according to a press release of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).
The latest day's infection rate was 19.90% of the total tests. The death rate stands at 1.48%.
Professor Md Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, stressed stopping the transmission of the virus to control the infection. "Now a curfew should be imposed and people have to be kept at home.
"The DGHS has to go door to door for coronavirus testing. Hospitals are now overcrowded. Therefore, some field hospitals now need to be set up to treat patients."
DGHS identifies 31 highly Covid-19 infected districts
The DGHS has identified 31 districts as "high risk areas" due to a higher Covid-19 infection rate in the areas.
These districts are Moulvibazar, Munshiganj, Chattogram, Dhaka, Sylhet, Narsingdi, Khulna, Narayanganj, Rajbari, Feni, Noakhali, Chandpur, Shariatpur, Lakshmipur, Cumilla, Barishal, Rajshahi, Bogura, Narail, Nilphamari, Gazipur, Faridpur, Brahmanbaria, Jashore, Madaripur, Naogaon, Rangpur, Kishoreganj, Natore, Tangail and Cox's Bazar, according to a DGHS press release issued on Wednesday.
On Monday, DGHS Additional Director General Professor Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora said, "Data such as disease levels, number of patients, and infection rates are analysed every week to identify the high-risk areas."
"As such, on 13 March, six districts were found to be at high risk of infection. A week later, on 20 March, the number rose to 20, and after the analysis of 24 March, the total number of risky districts was 29," she said.
"This means that the infection is actually spreading slowly across the entire country," Flora added.
Commuters suffer as buses carrying 50% passengers, fair hiked.