Captain Imam Mahdi feels like he is on the front line of a war. He is the team leader of a group of army personnel fighting not against any country but against the deadly coronavirus infection that is threatening to leave his country in ruins.
He is grimly determined to win the war against COVID-19 by flattening the curve. In epidemiology, the idea of slowing a virus’ spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time is known as “flattening the curve”.
As part of his battle, captain Mahdi on Sunday afternoon set up a check-post on Azimpur Road in front of Eden Mohila College, leading to Lalbagh, one of the nine epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak in Dhaka. At least 11 people have already tested positive for the deadly COVID-19 disease in Lalbagh alone.
Captain Mahdi, along with 12 military personnel, including Sergeant Lutfor, Corporal Hemayat, and Lance Corporal Fazlu stop pedestrians as well as vehicles at the check-post to ask why they are moving around during the lockdown.
“As the virus is spreading fast now, we cannot cover the entire area through patrols. That is why we are regularly setting up check-posts at different entry and exit points to Lalbagh,” said Mahdi, who has been working in the area for more than two weeks.
Mahdi is not alone. More than 7,000 army personnel in nearly 600 teams are busy implementing the government order of social distancing in 62 districts since March 25 when the government deployed the army to aid civil administration to tackle the spread of the virus.
The army men patrol across the country to enforce social distancing, provide protective equipment – including face masks and hand sanitizers – and create awareness about coronavirus.
The security forces are keeping a close eye on people who have recently returned to the country from abroad. They monitor the returnees regularly to ensure that they follow quarantine rules.
In fact, people who see law enforcement agency members doing their duty regularly are now abiding by the order of social distancing in the presence of military officials.
The number of infected people in the country is increasing fast. The capital is the worst affected area in the country. In the last one month, more than 300 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Dhaka city alone. As a result, army personnel is now more alert in the city area.
More than 80 teams of security forces patrol Dhaka streets from dawn to dusk every day to create awareness and to advise people to stay at home. They also spray disinfectants on the roads.
Captain Mahdi said they were creating awareness about social distancing, asking people to wash their hands frequently and ensuring that people avoid gatherings even in kitchen markets.
“We have ensured that each kitchen market has a single entry and a separate exit,” said Mahdi. “No one is allowed to come out through the entry gate.”
Army officials said that during the shutdown people go out of their homes mainly to buy medicines and visit doctors. Besides, bankers and doctors go out to attend their offices.
“We do not allow anyone to go out without a valid reason,” said Mahdi, adding that they stop and ask each and every person at the check post.
The Bangladesh Army runs a quarantine center at the Ashkona Hajj camp in the city, which has 38 people in quarantine now. They have also launched a health campaign in different places across the country to provide treatment to patients of other diseases.
The army will support and assist the civil administration in enforcing the lockdown and ensuring the implementation of other government orders and instructions,” said Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Ibn Zaid, director of the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate.
Chief of Army Staff General Aziz Ahmed in a meeting at the Ministry of Commerce on April 1 said military personnel will be in the field as long as needed.