Rohingya walk near closed shops in an alley of a refugee camp during a government-imposed lockdown of Cox's Bazar district as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus, in Ukhia on April 9, 2020. Photo: AFP / Mohammad Kalam

Bangladesh has imposed a “complete lockdown” in Cox’s Bazar district – home to over a million Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar – to halt the spread of coronavirus, officials said Thursday.

Experts have warned that the disease could spread quickly through the cramped, sewage-soaked alleys where the persecuted Muslim minority are housed in canvas and bamboo shacks.

No cases have been confirmed in the camps but one infection has been recorded nearby. 

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

The area “will be put under complete lockdown – no entry, no exit – 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.

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.

Misinformation

More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown across the border in Myanmar and resettled in the squalid refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, where around 200,000 refugees were already living.

Rights groups and activists have expressed concerns that the camps have become hotspots for misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic because of an internet ban imposed last September.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya woke up in the middle of the night last month to recite the Muslim call to prayer, after rumors spread that the act could stop the spread of the virus. 

Amnesty International has warned that basic accurate information about the disease was failing to reach many refugees in the camps.

The refugee commissioner said his office had asked Dhaka to remove the internet restrictions.

– AFP

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