Clients flocked to banks in Chattogram on Sunday to withdraw cash, a day after the government declared a seven-day lockdown in the country starting Monday to curb the new surge in Covid-19 infections.
Although the authorities have decided to keep banks open in the lockdown for emergency services, clients have rushed in panic to different banks in the city, disregarding health safety rules.
The rush of people has made it hard for banks to maintain physical distancing, with rising concerns about virus infection among bank officials in the commercial areas of the city.
On Sunday morning, at Sonali Bank's Sirajuddaula Road branch, there was a long line of clients stretching to the Didar Market intersection. There were about two hundred men and women standing in line.
"I came to the bank before 10 am to withdraw cash. It is 11 am now. I have not been able to enter the bank even after an hour. There are still 40/50 clients ahead of me. It seems it will take another hour for me to withdraw money," said a client named Dr Narayan Chowdhury.
Fahmida Sultana, a resident of the Masterpool area said, "Although banks will remain open in the lockdown, I have come to the bank to withdraw money to buy some essentials for several days. Moreover, one could need cash anytime in the lockdown."
The Islami Bank branch in the Chawkbazar area of the city also faced an overflowing crowd of clients. Most of the people standing in line to enter the bank said they are fearing a long-term lockdown. That's why they are in a rush to withdraw cash.
However, bank officials said the pressure of clients was so huge that they could not maintain health safety rules. As such, everyone, bankers as well as clients coming to the bank, are at risk of getting infected by the virus.
Most bank officials have demanded the closure of all branches except the corporate branch and the import-export branch (AD branch) in the interest of health safety.
Crowds of clients were also there in Agrabad, the main commercial area of Chattogram. In some cases, lines of clients went from the main gate of the bank to the streetside.
Islami Bank Agrabad Branch is located on Sheikh Mujib Road, Agrabad. Although the bank is on the second floor of the building, the line of clients ran all the way to the KSRM building near the Barek building intersection. To ensure social distancing, the bank authorities painted distanced circles on the floor of the bank's office.
Security personnel also tried their best to maintain and enforce health safety rules. But outside the bank, clients were standing close together in line without any distancing. Many of them were not even wearing any masks.
Mia Mohammad Barkat Ullah, branch manager and senior vice president of Islami Bank, said, "We have taken all necessary steps to prevent coronavirus infection. Necessary steps have also been taken to ensure masks, hand gloves and hand sanitisers for bank staff. We have kept shoe disinfectors and hand sanitisers for clients. But it has been hard for us to maintain social distancing as the number of clients is huge."
According to the branch, more than 500 clients did cash transactions at the branch till Sunday afternoon. Also, at least 200 more clients came to the bank for transactions related to import-export, DPS, savings certificates, remittances. Bank officials said it is extremely risky to handle so many customers in the face of such an infectious disease outbreak.
Bank Asia Agrabad Branch is opposite the Ethnic Museum in the same area. More than 350 transactions were made in this branch till Sunday afternoon. Here, more than 500 clients came for a variety of transactions including LCs, pay-orders, savings certificates and remittances.
Jahangir Alam, branch manager and senior vice president of Bank Asia, said, "We have taken all necessary steps for security. Even so, there have been concerns about protecting bank officials and customers from infection."
Bank officials were also visibly anxious about the sudden crowd of clients in branches of the wholesale markets in Khatunganj, Jubilee Road and Station Road, Kadamtali, Pahartali, and other commercial areas.
Erfanul Islam, manager of United Commercial Bank Limited (UCB), Khatunganj branch, said, "Almost all banks in Khatunganj are crowded. Thousands of cars are bringing goods here every day. People from different areas are coming to the market. Local traders, including out-of-town buyers, are transacting at the bank every day. At this time, keeping the bank open and doing transactions feels like facing death constantly."
"We are making arrangements for clients to stand in line to maintain social distancing. But the roads in Khatunganj are so narrow and busy that this has become very difficult," he added.