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rohingya crisis

Rohingya camps in Bangladesh under complete virus lockdown

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Cox Bazar, location of the largest concentration of refugees is now in full lockdown.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Cox Bazar, location of the largest concentration of refugees is now in full lockdown. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The Bangladesh government has imposed a "complete lockdown" in the Cox's Bazar district, where over a million Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar are living in cramped camps. Experts have warned the disease could spread quickly through the alleys of the settlements.

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No coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the camps as yet, but one infection has been recorded nearby.

With the official number of cases in Bangladesh doubling to more than 200, including 20 deaths, in the last five days, officials ordered a lockdown of the district from late Wednesday.

The area "will be put under complete lockdown, meaning that no one is allowed to leave or to enter, until the situation improves," the directive said.

Police and soldiers set up roadblocks on the main roads of the district, home to 3.4 million people including the Rohingya refugees, and were conducting patrols inside and around the camps on Thursday.

Food supply

Refugee commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder said movement restrictions on aid workers had also been imposed, cutting manpower by 80 percent.

"Only emergency food supply and medical services can continue work in the camps by maintaining extreme caution," he told AFP.

Anyone with a recent history of travel abroad would also be prevented from entering the camps until they completed a quarantine, he added.

Bangladesh as a whole at risk

Asif Saleh, executive director of Building Resources Across Communities (Brac), a development NGO based in Dhaka, points out that Covid-19 and any confinement policy aimed at curbing it, will have a devastating effect on the country's economy.

"In Bangladesh -- where over 90 percent of workers are in the informal sector, health insurance is a luxury, and most homes don’t have any sort of internet connectivity -- how much more devastating would these policies be here? How many workers making 500 taka (€5.40) a day can work from home?" he asks.

Meanwhile New York-based Human Rights Watch reports that until late March, the government in Myanmar bluntly denied that there were any coronavirus cases in the country.

According to the latest statistics, Bangladesh has 330 cases, with 21 dead, while figures for Myanmar are not available.

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