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Faysal Atik and Kazi Nafia Rahman,
Published: 22 Jan 2022 02:41 AM BdST Updated: 26 Jan 2022 02:41 AM BdST
“The fair will continue to be held by following the health rules. Nothing has been said in the health protocols to shut it,” said Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, secretary to the Export Promotion Bureau and director of the fair.
Professor Mohammad Shahidullah, chairman of the National Technical Advisory Committee on COVID-19, does not think it is a good idea to allow the fair to continue now, even with some restrictions.
“Honestly, I think it’d have been better to shut the fair altogether,” he said on Friday.
The trade fair opened on Jan 1 at a new venue, Bangladesh-China Friendship Centre in Purbachal, some 25 kilometres from the old one in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
It failed to draw visitors initially, but the crowds have now got bigger, with many visitors violating rules for mandatory face covering.
After the government brought back some restrictions amid the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus on Jan 10, the director of the fair said the health protocols would be followed strictly, and the law enforcers will strengthen monitoring to ensure masking.
With the situation taking a turn for the worse fast, the government on Friday morning shut schools and colleges, and banned gatherings of more than 100 people at all sorts of events. People must also present a vaccination certificate or results of negative coronavirus test taken within 24 hours of attendance.
Dhaka is preparing to host the Amar Ekushey Book Fair next month while the Bangladesh Premier League tournament is ongoing at Mirpur Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium, besides the trade fair.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque said at a news conference on the new restrictions that attendees will need to present vaccination certificate for all sorts of gatherings, be it the book fair, stadiums or the trade fair. The Bangla Academy in the evening said everyone must bring along vaccination certificate to enter the fair.
The minister hinted that the ban on gatherings of more than 100 people at a single venue may be relaxed for stadiums. “It can’t be said that fewer than 100 people will go there. Games are held in stadiums. People will need to show vaccination certificates or (negative COVID) test results there.”
Tareque Mosharraf Mukul, an official of Mir Brothers appointed to sell tickets at the trade fair, said the number of visitors on Friday dropped from the previous weekend. Around 50,000 people visited the fair last Friday and the number would be 40,000 this weekend, according to him.
Asked how health protocols can be enforced on such a huge crowd, Director Iftekhar said the organisers have hired some workers to enforce the rules after the government reimposed some restrictions earlier this month.
“No new decision has come from the commerce ministry after the new rules were issued. It means the fair will continue. But things will be different if a new decision is made,” he said.
Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh, Additional Secretary Hafizur Rahman, and EPB Vice-Chairman AHM Ahsan were unavailable for comments.
WHAT HEALTH EXPERTS SAY
Bangladesh confirmed 11,434 coronavirus cases in the daily count, the highest since Aug 9 last year, while the death toll increased by 12. The test positivity rate increased to 28.5 percent from 26 percent a day earlier.
Prof Shahidullah said the organisers will be facing a formidable challenge in enforcing vaccination pass and mask rules on such huge crowds.
“I saw on TV that the use of mask has increased in some stalls of the fair, but still around 30 percent people are not wearing a mask. The organisers should appoint
some volunteers to ensure masking,” he said.
Wearing a face mask in public is crucial to the fight against COVID-19, he reminded, adding: “The organisers should also work on preventing the crowd from getting large.”
Dr Mushtuq Husain, an advisor to the government’s disease control agency IEDCR, said it would have been better had the government shut everything, but that cannot be done considering the livelihood of people. “Health rules must be followed at the places that cannot be shut.”
Unvaccinated people should be discouraged about going to the fair. “It’s not that vaccinated people do not contract COVID, only that the risks of them getting infected are low.”
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