Coronavirus screening at Dhaka airport falls short, shares returning Bangladeshi

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Staff Reporter:

A Bangladeshi international communication professional who has recently returned home from the Philippines voiced deep concern at the overall handling of incoming passengers, including lax screening, at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport amid the growing coronavirus fear.

“I’m afraid the situation in our densely-populated Bangladesh may worsen in the coming days. One of the issues is the airport authorities are not properly screening and advising passengers coming from different countries, including the ones that are struggling to control the coronavirus pandemic,” said Zafrin Chowdhury, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Philippines.

In an interview with UNB over phone, Zafrin Chowdhury who has opted for a 14-day self-quarantine since she returned home on March 14 shared her experiences at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and her observations about how strictly the Philippines is trying to contain the deadly virus.

While preparing to return home, she said, a friend from Bangladesh had alerted her to expect strict screening at the airport in Dhaka, including advice on supervised quarantine. “I was prepared as such. The passengers on the Dhaka-bound flight had to fill out an additional form asking to record information such as, recent visits to countries like China and South Korea.”

However, upon arrival at the airport, the Unicef official said, her temperature was checked through a hand thermometer and that was about it. “Then I queued up to go to a desk, where the official concerned collected that form without saying anything further. I then proceeded to immigration and left a near-deserted airport at midnight with a relative ease.  No question asked, no advice offered!”

Zafrin said the least she had expected was some instructions or advice on home quarantine over a specified period, as per global guidelines. “My friends mentioned that the airport surveillance team would keep my mobile phone number for further follow-up and to check if I had developed any symptoms. That was not the case.”

She went on to say, “This is worrisome that there’s little effort to contain Coronavirus in a densely-populated country like ours and screening passengers, particularly those returning from the Philippines where a growing number of cases led to complete lockdown in large parts of the country with most cases. In fact, I barely escaped the lockdown in the Philippines. Had I been a day late, I couldn’t have returned to Bangladesh for much longer.

“I read in the newspapers that thousands have returned to Bangladesh from different coronavirus-affected countries, including the worst-hit ones. It is indeed worrisome if the passengers aren’t properly monitored, God forbid, we may end up with the most difficult consequences of coronavirus.”

Zafrin reflected, since the coronavirus outbreak was labeled as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), countries across the world are taking strict measures to prevent it from spreading further. “This virus has no border and it’s spreading like fire. Seeing the slack response makes me nervous.”

The communication expert said the government should strengthen its awareness campaign and send out clear safety advice and tips to people to tackle the coronavirus. “Such efforts are not very visible yet. People are still gathering in Cox’s Bazar sea beach and needless crowding in different places has continued unchecked. A much-needed change in lifestyle is not noted.”

Citing the example of the Philippines, she thought a complete lockdown of the country is needed, even if for a few days, to contain an outbreak.

Zafrin said all the educational institutions have been closed there, all public transportations have been suspended until further notice, residents have been asked not to leave home except only get money or essential food supplies. Similarly, offices and institutions, including international organizations, have asked employees in the Philippines to work remotely from home. Only supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, food delivery services, and water stations are being allowed to remain open. “But only one person can enter a store or a bank at a time after going through temperature checkup. Everybody is confined to their homes as part of an effort to prevent the further spread of the virus.”

“I lived in the Philippines for about six years. Like any other democracies, people are critical of the government for sometimes failing to maintain order and civic amenities. However, they did not hesitate to take the right steps at the time of this crisis. Our government may consider taking some stringent measures to beat the odds against coronavirus threat. People must and will follow!”

A total of 193 patients have tested positive in the Philippines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as of 11 am on Wednesday, according to the Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH).unb

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