DHAKA: Eid Al-Fitr celebrations for Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh’s refugee camps have been overshadowed by the specter of the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Some members of the ethnic group said fears of contracting the virus had turned the religious holiday into “the worst festival ever.”
Mohammad Hashem, 32, a former international aid agency volunteer worker, told Arab News: “This was the worst Eid I have ever experienced in my life. Due to the coronavirus situation, I lost my temporary job and there was no money in hand. So, I could not buy anything for my three children.”
Another refugee, who would only give her name as Begum, said she had pawned her gold jewelry for $100 so she could make Eid special for her children.
“I brought some new clothes for my son and daughter with the money. The rest I spent on arranging some special Eid dishes for the family,” she added.
Government officials told Arab News that as of Tuesday, 25 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the camps, after the first infection among Rohingya was recorded in mid-May.
It resulted in more than 15,000 being placed under lockdown as authorities also struggled to contain the outbreak in the densely populated camps of Cox’s Bazar which house more than 1 million refugees.
Kazi Mohammad Mozammel Huq, additional commissioner of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), said: “We are focusing mostly on maintaining social distancing at this critical juncture.
“Special Eid prayers were also organized in line with this direction and Rohingya offered the Eid prayers in different groups instead of gathering at a time.”
Officials said the uptick in infections and lack of COVID-19 testing kits meant a sizeable number of samples were yet to be tested.
Dr. Mahbubur Rahman, chief medical officer for the district of Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News: “Currently we have 1,200 samples waiting to be tested. On average, we can test a maximum of 190 samples per day.”
He added that authorities were working to improve facilities and double the frequency of testing over the coming days.
However, the district has yet to establish intensive care unit (ICU) facilities in hospitals to treat critical patients.
“Some of the machinery for the ICU has reached Cox’s Bazar but others are awaited. Hopefully, we will be able to provide the services shortly, but I can’t predict the exact timing,” Rahman said.
Dr. Abu Taha Bhuyan, from the RRRC, said most COVID-19 patients among the Rohingyas were doing well.
“There are four types of COVID-19 patients – mild, moderate, severe, and critical. Until now we have found only two-thirds of Rohingya patients with moderate conditions while others are mostly asymptomatic,” he added.
Aid agencies are preparing to deal with an anticipated increase in the number of patients by placing their focus on boosting bed capacity.
Catalin Bercaru, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) spokesperson in Dhaka, said: “The current capacity in the district is 300 beds. This includes two newly installed treatment centers with a capacity of 200 beds built by the UNHCR (UN refugee agency) and supported by WHO. Other partners are planning on opening nine additional facilities with a total capacity of 700 beds.”
Bercaru added that, at present, there were six quarantine facilities available for more than 1,000 people.