Bangladesh reinforces virus lockdown on Rohingya camps

The sun rises as thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar a day before wait by the road where they spent the night between refugee camps, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh October 10, 2017. (REUTERS)
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Updated 07 June 2020

Bangladesh reinforces virus lockdown on Rohingya camps

  • Infection spike prompts tough measures as country’s death toll reaches 846

DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, which is home to more than 1 million Rohingya refugees, reinforced a two-week lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, officials said Saturday.

The disease has killed 846 people in Bangladesh and the total number of infections as of Saturday was 63,026, with 29 people testing positive for the virus and one death reported at the refugee camps.
“In the past couple of days we have noticed a sudden boom in the virus infection rate in the district, which prompted us to reinforce a very strict lockdown again,” Shajahan Ali, additional district magistrate of Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News. He said that the doubling down would include dividing the area into different parts, with no entry allowed in the “red zone.”
“To make the lockdown truly effective vehicles’ movements will be restricted. People from outside Cox’s Bazar will not be allowed to enter the city. Kitchen markets will remain open for several hours only on Sundays and Thursdays. Banks will also follow the same,” he added.
Overburdened and with limited facilities available, district officials have been struggling with a sudden spike in infections.
Authorities were working around the clock to strengthen relief operations in the district to ease the suffering of refugees grappling with the restrictions, Ali said.
“In addition to the regular social safety net program, we have included 200,000 more people under the relief support network. Considering the long-time impact of the coronavirus, this support program is designed for four months starting from May.”
Authorities resumed testing for the virus after halting the process for two days in the area as it was undergoing disinfection, said Dr. Abu Toha Bhuyan, health coordinator of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission.
“Considering a huge population of 1.7 million host communities and 1 million Rohingya refugees, now we are working hard to increase the testing facilities in the district,” he told Arab News. “Also, with the two current lab facilities, we will launch another lab very soon at Teknaf sub-district, which holds several hundred thousand Rohingyas.”

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The total number of infections as of Saturday was 63,026, with 29 people testing positive for the virus and one death reported at the refugee camps.

Authorities are looking to establish an intensive care unit and a high dependency unit by June 21 to provide emergency care to critical patients.
“We can’t predict the situation at this moment about how far worse it might be at the overcrowded Rohingya camps,” Bhuyan said. “But till now the situation is very much under control. Many Rohingyas are now aware of the importance of social distancing and cleanliness in case of any coronavirus suspect.”
He added that there was “definitely” room for improvement to strengthen health and safety awareness among refugees, and that there was an emergency meeting on Sunday to work out the issues such as social distancing which was “almost impossible to maintain among the refugees” due to space constraints.
A refugee family comprising seven to eight people live in a tent of just 120 square feet.
Bhuyan said it was harrowing for refugees to keep all family members, including children inside, with the onset of summer and sweltering conditions.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 04 July 2020

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.