Thousands of people are stranded in Bangladesh capital after the authorities halted almost all public transport before a sweeping weeklong lockdown, imposed to combat a deadly resurgence of COVID-19 infections, begins on Thursday.
The country has reported pandemic highs of more than 8,300 fresh infections on Monday and 119 deaths on Sunday.
It has a total caseload of nearly 900,000 and just more than 14,000 COVID-19 deaths. But experts say the actual numbers could be much higher due to possible underreporting.
Officials blame the recent spike on the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in neighbouring India.
The majority of the South Asian nation’s 168 million population will be confined to their homes by Thursday as part of the restrictions, with only essential services and some export-facing factories allowed to operate.
The government’s cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam said troops would be deployed from Thursday to help enforce the lockdown.
“The armed forces will be on patrol. If anyone ignores their orders, legal action will be available to them,” he told reporters late on Monday.
The lockdown announcement sparked an exodus of migrant workers from Dhaka to home villages on Sunday, with tens of thousands cramming into ferries to cross a big river.
The staggered implementation of the lockdown rules left thousands of workers in Dhaka forced to walk to their offices on Monday, sometimes for hours, in the sweltering summer heat.
Bicycle rickshaws were allowed to operate in a last-minute government concession on Sunday, but prices soared to unaffordable levels, commuters said.
Restrictions on activities and movement were imposed across Bangladesh in mid-April as cases and deaths jumped to their highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
Infections declined in May but started to rise again this month, sparking harsher restrictions in the South Asian nation.
Health officials across the world have been alarmed by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, now reported by the WHO to have reached at least 85 countries.
More than two-thirds of new COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh’s capital were of the Delta variant, a recent study by the independent Dhaka-based International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research reported.