People queue to collect subsidised food items during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Dhaka on Thursday. AFP
Members of the Bihari community — descendants of refugees who fled to Bangladesh after the partition of India in 1947 — say the pandemic has highlighted the discrimination they have endured for decades.
Some 32,000 Bihari live in Geneva Camp — one of the most desperate slums in the country — where rights lawyer Khalid Hussain and police say two residents tested positive for coronavirus.
Hussain said a state-run hospital meant specifically for COVID-19 patients had refused to admit the two, declaring their condition “not critical.”
Now Geneva Camp residents were being rejected by another local hospital no matter what their health issue is, Hussain said, as staff fear they may catch the virus.
The Biharis have faced discrimination for years, as the community is accused of backing Pakistan during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence.
About 500,000 live in 116 settlements across the country of 168 million.
Bihari community leader Sadakat Khan Fakku said a man infected with coronavirus from another camp had also been turned away by a local hospital, and he was now self-quarantined in a one-room home with his family.
None of the hospitals approached by AFP would comment on the allegations, but Nasima Sultana, deputy head of Bangladesh’s health department, denied discrimination. “There are 10 million slum people in Dhaka,” she told AFP.
“We don’t have enough beds,” she added, saying people with mild symptoms should treat themselves at home.
Advocate Hussain said the two infected men from Geneva camp had been isolated with 20 families, but that social distancing was almost impossible in so crowded a place.
He said at least six people in the slum have died in recent weeks with coronavirus-type symptoms such as viral fever and respiratory problems.
“None of them were tested, so we don’t know whether they had coronavirus,” he said.
Bangladesh has officially said 120 people have died and 3,800 others been infected with coronavirus, but experts say more testing would reveal far higher figures.
In a separate development, eight babies and toddlers at a Tokyo care centre have tested positive for the coronavirus after a staff member contracted the disease, its operator said on Wednesday.
India has also closed a border with neighbouring Myanmar to counter the coronavirus outbreak, as countries across South Asia reported a rise in cases on Wednesday. No cases have so far been confirmed in Myanmar.
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.
"The Prime Minister is in good health with no symptoms. As a precautionary measure and following the advice of doctors, he will be in isolation for a planned period of 14 days," the statement added.
"It has been decided that all borders will remain closed for 15 days," Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the local ARY and Dunya TV networks. "International flights will operate only out of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports," he said.
The prime minister expressed dissatisfaction over the performance of the current local governments and said a system was being introduced at the village level under which funds would be transferred directly to the councils.
The Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha) on its social media platforms on Saturday has announced that it has further reduced the cost of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
“GITEX will be the most important and realistic global technical event in 2020 and the UAE will be the fastest country to recover fro COVID-19 in the world,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted.