The fear came true.
The virus originating from Wuhan, China, has spread all across the globe, causing havoc in both public and private sectors in almost every affected country. By April, most countries took the precautions to go into strict lockdown, compelling people to use new tactics to work from home.
Till now, more than 400 Bangladeshi migrants have lost their lives to Covid-19 around the world, according to the prime minister in a recent video conference.
Even when death waits for them outside, there are many who are still going to work. Here are the accounts of four non-resident Bangladeshis who have to go to work either for the people or to just bring food to the table.
"Most of my doctor friends have been infected by coronavirus"
Consultant cardiac surgeon, Oxford University Hospital, UK
The situation we are living in is extraordinary. Personally, I don't have to go into work every day as we are conducting fewer operations now, as half of the intensive care unit beds in our hospital have been reserved for Covid-19 treatment.
The Oxford University Hospital has set up a network through which we can access all the reports of a patient in real time from home. We are consulting our patients under observation and the post-operative ones virtually, for now.
We are not allowed to head out unless it is very important. The ones who are outside are the front-line workers, delivery people, and the ones who are working in the essential sector.
The hospital has instructed us to carry our badges while heading out and many hospitals have given letters to their staff that can be shown to the police if asked for verification.
Generally, I am okay but deeply worried about Bangladesh. Given the lack of time, I think the UK's National Health Service has managed the situation well with the limited resources. Yet, we lost around 20,000 people and the numbers are rising. God knows what will happen in Bangladesh.
Most of my friends who are working in London got affected with coronavirus and some of them even got admitted to hospital. Thankfully, most of them made uneventful recoveries. Things are getting better now.
However, we have been a bit depressed since we lost one of our friends, Dr Abdul Mabud Chowdhury. He passed away a few days back, and was only 52.
I was planning to go to Bangladesh to see my parents. My mom is sick. She has cancer and it makes me very sad that I cannot go to see her.
The pandemic has changed the lives of all of us. Life will not be the same anymore. I will not be going to football matches anymore or attending any big gatherings for a while until a vaccine is in place.
"Last week, one of the truck drivers died. Another employee died the week before."
Ehsanul Haque Eco
UPS staff, New York, US
Some people are still working and there is nothing that can be done. People need money to feed themselves and their families. I myself am going to work every day to make ends meet. I have to manage delivery boxes of around 50 trucks every day at UPS.
All the staff members have been advised to stay safe and keep a distance. We all maintain a distance but then again, the boxes that land in front of us come from different parts of the world and you never know whether it is carrying the virus or not.
People are still buying medicines, food, groceries, clothes, electronics etc. from online stores. As long as e-commerce businesses are up and running, we will be delivering the products to customers' doorstep.
When we signed a contract with UPS during recruitment, there was no such clause which stated that the company will aid us in any way during a crisis similar to this. Last week, one of the truck drivers died of coronavirus. Another employee died the week before.
As far as the safety concerns go, the officials provide us with gloves and masks but no sanitisers. I usually wear two masks and gloves while working.
Loading and unloading boxes is not the toughest part of the job. The delivery men who are delivering the boxes have to face higher risks every day. S/he has to come in contact with many customers while making the delivery.
Some customers maintain a safe distance but there are some who do not consider the pandemic to be an issue. Last week, I had to go out for delivery where I experienced a similar situation and it is not safe.
New York is like a ghost town now. Times Square is empty, and there is no one out on the streets.
I use the subway or the bus to go to work and it is very challenging. The number of commuters has dropped drastically in New York. All the homeless people have started taking shelter in trains.
I can take the bus as well, which is completely free of cost now due to the pandemic. As I have to head to work early in the morning, the buses are mostly carrying people who work for delivery companies and you never know who is carrying the virus there as well.
When I moved to America from Bangladesh in 2015, I used to work in restaurants. I had many options back then but as of now, I do not have an alternative job. The government has donated $2 trillion and everybody is getting $1,200.
The government may give it again. And if I lose my job then I can file for unemployment and that may help me survive.
"The govt stimulus is covering 80 percent of our salaries"
Sous chef, Milan, Italy
I have been living in Italy since 2008 and have worked many jobs. Currently, I am working as a sous chef at Fabbrica Pedavena Birreria – a restaurant in Milan's Monza. I have never seen the city so empty and quiet as it is now.
For over a month now, all restaurants and cafes have been shut down temporarily except for a few which are providing delivery services. I have to go to work once or twice a week to manage our reserved stock of cheese and beef. As I have to work during the lockdown, the owner provides me with incentives and support whenever needed.
Even though the majority population is not able to work, the government is providing a stimulus that is covering 80 percent of salaries of every individual who is under an employment contract. We are also getting meal tickets worth 150 euros for individuals and 350 euros for people with family members which can be used at any shop counter to buy food items. So far, there has not been any shortage of food and markets are full of fresh consumable products.
Many of my Bangladeshi acquaintances have been infected. Most of us are living in communities close to our workplaces. One of my acquaintances, Zakir Hossain, had been working for a company for 16 months and his contract was not extended afterwards. Now, the Italian government will be paying him a stimulus of 900 euros for the next eight months. There are many like Zakir who do not have work at the moment and are getting benefits from the government. However, there are some who have not yet received any benefits from the government, probably because of lack of proper documentation.
So far, me and my family have not faced any problems. However, my kids tend to get a bit anxious at times. I am quite tensed about my mother. She does not like staying indoors; she gets a bit anxious at times as she has been home-quarantined for such a long time.
"We have to deal with 500 customers every eight hours"
Ashiqul Islam Akash
CVS Pharmacy staff, New York, US
In search of better opportunities, I left Bangladesh in August 2018 and moved to America. Two months later, I started working as a cashier at CVS Pharmacy in Queens, New York. Within a year and a half, I was promoted to the position of a floor supervisor.
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, like every other country or state, everyone in New York did not seem to be much alarmed by it. Even when cases were rising in New York, my co-workers and I went to work.
Since the government imposed lockdown in New York, the situation has gotten worse. Apart from government offices, post offices, delivery companies, pharmacies, and grocery stores, all other entities are closed for now.
We have a 24-hour front store and a pharmacy that runs from 9am to 9pm every day.
If we stop working, how will people get their medicines? I am not talking about the Covid-19 patients but the ones who need medication on a daily basis. They have to come to the store and get their medicines.
Hundreds of people are dying by the hour because of this virus. Even though I am taking proper precautions, every day, as I leave home for work, I have small panic attacks. I feel suffocated when I step outside and the thought that I might get infected never leaves my mind.
In New York, the biggest problem is transportation. Even people who own cars use the subway because of the traffic and difficulty in finding a parking spot. Almost everyone has to use the subway, making it now one of the riskiest places in New York.
Although most people have stopped going out, if the subways close, it will become impossible for people to move. Daily wage earners have no way to generate income. Right now, if I do not come to work, the company will not pay me.
CVS provided us with gloves, masks, and hand sanitisers. The company has even set up glass counters for store associates so that they do not have to come in contact with any customer.
We are maintaining a minimum of six feet distance between people inside the pharmacy. We have to deal with around 500 customers in every eight hours. We are trying to maintain safety guidelines as much as possible. We disinfect the entire store every hour.
If any employee has a fever, s/he does not need to come to work for the next 72 hours and can come back only if condition gets better. If any employee shows any symptom of illness at work, we take them to our mini-clinic and do the necessary diagnosis