As the country braces for what officials said would be a strict lockdown from tomorrow, thousands of people left Dhaka for their village homes yesterday, ignoring the risks of contracting coronavirus while travelling.
With long-haul bus, launch, train and domestic flight services being suspended, people travelled on the back of pickups, by auto-rickshaws, rickshaws and motorcycles.
The rush towards hometowns started growing from Sunday morning and it intensified yesterday, soon after the news of a week-long strict lockdown was announced at noon.
The pressure of passengers was so intense that the authorities have been operating all the 16 ferries on the Paturia-Dauladia and the Shimulia-Kathalbari routes since Sunday.
The exodus is likely to increase the risk of further spread of the coronavirus across the country, which yesterday reported a record number of deaths from Covid-19 in a single day.
Besides, the Directorate General of Health Services yesterday reported 7,201 new cases, taking the total number of people infected to 6.91 lakh.
The Cabinet Division yesterday issued a circular with a set of strict restrictions that would be in effect from 6:00am on April 14 to April 21 midnight to rein in the numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
As per the circular, all public and private offices and financial institutions will remain closed and all modes of transport (ie road, river, rail and air) suspended for the week.
Nobody would be allowed to go outdoors unless there is an emergency like buying medicine, daily necessities, or taking medical treatment, Covid-19 vaccine, and burial.
However, Bangladesh Bank issued a circular in the evening, noting that a limited number of bank branches that deal with overseas trade will remain open.
Restaurants will be open from 12:00pm to 7:00pm and 12:00am to 6:00am because the restrictions coincide with the beginning of Ramadan. But the eateries will be allowed to provide the takeaway and delivery services, reads the circular.
Groceries and other daily essentials can be sold in open spaces from 9:00am to 3:00pm, maintaining the coronavirus rules. Shopping malls and stores will remain closed.
However, factories and industries will remain open, maintaining the health safety guidelines. The management will have to ensure transportation for their employees.
On April 4, the Cabinet Division issued an 11-point directive with a set of restrictions that were in effect from 6:00am on April 5 to 12:00am on April 11. It said violators of the directives would be punished.
Different offices, mills and factories were exempt from the restrictions and the government allowed resumption of bus services in all the 11 cities from April 7.
Despite concerns from health experts, the government on April 8 announced that shops and malls could be kept open for eight hours from April 9-April 13.
Experts doubted whether the "half-hearted" enforcement of restrictions would be effective at all.
The announcement of the strict lockdown came later.
State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain yesterday said administration officials and police in districts and upazilas were asked to take effective measures to enforce the restrictions.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader also directed the authorities concerned to make sure goods-laden vehicles do not carry people.
Many of those who are leaving Dhaka for their hometowns have assumed that the government may extend the one-week restriction. They hired pickups, auto rickshaws and some even walked long distances to leave the city.
Two ferry terminals on the Padma river began to see large crowds of south-bound people yesterday morning.
Although the ferries were supposed to carry the vehicles providing emergency services only, they were forced to carry the small vehicles across the Padma.
The pressure intensified because operation of launch services were suspended. Many people crossed the river on trawlers and speedboats, ignoring the restrictions.
"There were large numbers of small vehicles, motorcycles and people on foot on the ferries throughout the day," said an employee of Bangladesh Inland Road Transport Corporation (BIWTC) at Shimulia-Kathalbari terminal.
"Around 500 small vehicles are still waiting to go across the river," he told The Daily Star at 5:45pm, wishing not to be named.
Rubel Hossain, one of the travellers, said he was a labourer at a factory in Savar, but the owner sacked him due to the lockdown.
"So I left for Shariatpur with my wife and two children. I will travel by a trawler despite knowing the risk of infection," he told our correspondent in Munshiganj.
Taslima Begum said her husband lost his job at a shop on April 7. "It is not possible for us to stay in Dhaka. We will go home in Shibchar, Madaripur," she said at Shimulia terminal around 9:00am.
Shafiqul Islam, deputy general manager of BIWTC at Shimulia, said there were instructions to transport the goods-laden vehicles and ambulances only.
But when the small vehicles somehow reach the ferries breaking the police barricade, the BIWTC crew has very little means to stop them from boarding the vessels, he said.
At Paturia-Dauladia ferry terminal, Zillur Rahman, deputy general manager of BIWTC in Aricha, said, "We started operating the ferries in the morning with 400 smalls vehicles. The rush continues throughout the day."
Between 200 and 300 small vehicles were still waiting to cross the river, he told The Daily Star yesterday.
He said they used to operate only nine ferries during the restrictions but the latest rush forced them to operate more.
Dhaka-Chattogram Highway witnessed a massive pressure of vehicles, epically near Cumilla, from yesterday morning. Besides the goods-laden and small vehicles, some buses were seen plying the road, reports our Cumilla correspondent.
There was a rush of vehicles coming to Tangail from Dhaka yesterday evening, reports our correspondent in the district.
A similar situation arose after the government in March last year announced the shutdown of offices and suspension of public transport. Thousands of people left Dhaka defying government directives to stay home.
Experts said that was a reason why the virus spread quickly across the country. Besides, the country witnessed a mad rush before and after the Eids last year.