The government has extended the nationwide strict lockdown for five more days till 10 August, allowing markets and shopping malls to reopen. Public transport will also resume operations on a limited scale following that day.
Authorities, however, will not allow unvaccinated people aged over 18 to go outside after 10 August. They will face punishment if found violating this health safety mandate, says a government decision made during an inter-ministerial meeting on Tuesday.
Dhaka on the 12th day of the ongoing strict lockdown witnessed a significant increase in the number of people and private vehicles on the roads.
Briefing the media after the meeting, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said, "Public transportations will operate on a limited scale. Where 100 buses had plied on a daily basis, only 30-40 will operate. The district administration will monitor the situation.
"The government will consider the movement of unvaccinated people over 18 as a punishable offence. An ordinance could be issued in this regard."
He said, "The health ministry has obtained enough vaccines to inoculate one crore people in six days. So, anyone aged over 18 and unvaccinated will have to face the music for coming out on the streets.
"The staff working at shops and buses will have to take the vaccine before rejoining their respective workplaces."
Though public transportations, shops, shopping malls, government and non-government offices, and financial institutions will resume operations on a limited scale from 11 August, educational institutions will remain closed, government data said.
The government had recently directed that the educational institutions will remain shut until 31 August.
At the briefing, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque said, "The health ministry will inoculate more than 1 crore people in the next one week. There will be at least two vaccination centres in every ward.
"I am optimistic that the people will not have to face any hassles to get vaccinated."
He continued, "During the week-long drive, people will be inoculated in 14,000 centres. Older citizens will get priority. People of the working class, shopkeepers, and bus helpers will get vaccines too.
"Unvaccinated people will not be able to join their workplaces. They will take their shots from their areas."
The minister then said, "Information about those who took the vaccine will be available at the website. No one will be able to falsify the records. I am giving people the opportunity to get vaccinated, especially on 7, 8 and 9 August – just before the shops are reopened."
Discussing the issue of producing Covid-19 vaccines locally, AKM Mozammel Haque said, "No one has any idea how much longer the Covid-19 situation will persist. We are making a serious effort to manufacture vaccines locally or by signing a deal with another nation.
"We will try to begin manufacturing vaccines domestically within the next 4/5 months."
He added that a dedicated ICU will be launched from next Saturday at the Bangabandhu Medical College's Convention Centre to mitigate the shortage of ICUs for Covid-19 patients.
Bangladesh has been tackling the deadly pandemic for more than one and half years, and so far, the situation has become more precarious since the last one month. The country is breaking one record after another in terms of Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Till now, last July has been the deadliest month for Bangladesh. In a bid to stem the tide of Covid-19 infections, the government had imposed a stricter lockdown across the country on 1 July.
The lockdown was relaxed for nine days during the Eid-al-Adha holidays, a move the experts did not support. The lockdown resumed from 23 July, but the increasing number of daily infections and deaths showed no signs of slowing down.
While announcing that measure, the government had barred industries, factories, government and non-government organisations and all kinds of offices from operating until 5 August.
Despite taking a firm stance on the issue, the government had responded positively to industry and factory owners' requests by allowing them to resume operations on 1 August.
During that time, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) had spoken in favour of extending the lockdown, while Health Minister Zahid Maleque expressed his concerns over the possibility that Covid-19 infections could continue to rise.
'People have become desperate'
On a spot visit to visiting different areas of the capital – including Khilgaon, Mouchak, Mogbazar, Baily Road, Kakrail Mor, Paltan, Motijheel and Rajarbag areas – The Business Standard witnessed a significant pressure of private vehicles and rickshaws on Tuesday compared to previous days.
In Moghbazar, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Sergeant Robiul Alam said, "We have been facing a lot of pressure from different vehicles such as staff buses, private cars, CNG auto-rickshaws and bikes since Tuesday morning.
"Due to the opening of the garment factories and banks, movement on the streets has increased. We however found that a number of people were loitering unnecessarily. We fined and filed cases against them."
Reiterating the same, DMP Sergeant Md Selim Khan said, "People have become desperate as the lockdown is ending in a few days. We caught many on the streets lying to us about their reasons behind moving around. We sent some back to their homes, and imposed fines on the rest."
Meanwhile, people are still entering the capital. Many among them were forced to walk hundreds of miles with no available public transport due to the lockdown restrictions. Those who used smaller vehicles to reach their destinations had to pay two-three times the usual fare.
The correspondent however saw several buses breaking the rules and plying from Mawa crossroads on the highway.
Bangladesh is set to revive its mass vaccination mission with a special drive to inoculate one crore people from 7-12 August.
The drive will be followed by vaccination of one crore people every month until the end of the year as the health authorities are now more confident about getting the required supplies of vaccines from multiple sources.