DHAKA: Bengali New Year celebrations are being canceled in Bangladesh for the first time as the country remains in lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The government has canceled the national holiday, which is usually widely attended by Bangladeshis.
In a televised speech to the nation on Monday evening, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called on citizens to observe restrictions on movement and gatherings, which will be in place until at least April 25.
Introduced by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1585, Bengali New Year is celebrated with processions that in 2016 were selected by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.
“This is the first time in the history of Bangladesh that the Bengali New Year celebration program has been officially canceled. During the liberation war in 1971, we also couldn’t celebrate, but it was not due to an official decision,” Muntassir Mamoon, history professor at University of Dhaka, told Arab News.
“This is part and parcel of our culture and history, which also has political and economic significance,” he said, adding: “This is the only new year celebration in the world which is driven by a secular spirit. People from all walks of life, irrespective of class and religion, take part in this celebration.”
The holiday, during which Bangladeshis feast, exchange gifts and unite as a nation, will now arrive with grief, as public health experts warn that the country has entered the level-four stage of the COVID-19 epidemic — the highest according to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, as community transmission spreading has been recorded in most of the country’s districts. Bangladesh has been in lockdown since March 26.
“As an immediate step, lockdown should be strictly maintained by involving not only law enforcers but also motivating and involving the citizens,” Prof. Muzaherul Huq, former regional adviser for the WHO, told Arab News.
He said that many Bangladeshi health workers have already contracted the disease and are either hospitalized or quarantined. “If the situation continues this way it may affect the health care system,” he said, adding that more laboratory and intensive care staff are currently needed to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Officially, there were 1,012 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh and 46 related deaths as of Tuesday. The number of known infections has surged, with 209 new cases reported since Monday.