Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on 7 March 2019
Rohingya refugees gather at a market inside a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on 7 March 2019Reuters file photo

The government, UN agencies and NGOs have worked "intensively" to increase coronavirus testing, expand isolation and treatment capacities for all people in Cox’s Bazar, which are available for Bangladeshis and Rohingyas on an equal basis, the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) said Friday.

Testing capacity for COVID-19 was established in Cox’s Bazar at the beginning of April and as of 15 May, 145 Rohingyas had been tested, it said.

A government testing laboratory confirmed on Thursday the first positive COVID-19 case in the Rohingya settlements in Bangladesh. The 35-year-old Rohingya man is currently in isolation and receiving treatment, reports news agency UNB.

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Following laboratory confirmation, a joint government-humanitarian community Rapid Investigation Team was activated to investigate the case, conduct contact tracing and ensure the quarantine and testing of contacts under WHO guidelines.

Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas, most of who entered the country since 25 August 2017 to save themselves from the crackdown of Myanmar army in Rahine State.

‘Information is the Key’

Humanitarian partners are ensuring effective communications and outreach through radio spots, videos, posters, and messages in Rohingya and Burmese languages in the camps and in Bangla language for the local communities.

Bangladeshi and Rohingya volunteers, mosque Imams and other community leaders are on the frontline playing a crucial role in explaining how the virus spreads, how people can protect themselves and their families, and enabling them to recognise symptoms and seek care, said the ISCG.

Coronavirus infections have been gathering pace in recent days in Bangladesh, which has so far reported 20,065 cases and 298 deaths.

The training of health workers has been continuous, and the humanitarian community has brought in additional medical equipment and prepositioned critical supplies, including PPE.

A key preparedness action has been the construction of new Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Centres (SARIITCs), some of which are nearing completion. Those will be used to treat Rohingyas and local Bangladeshis requiring medical care for COVID-19 related illness.

District health facilities including the Sadar Hospital as well as the upazila health complexes in Ramu, Chakaria, Ukhiya and Teknaf are also receiving additional support.

Improving hygiene conditions among Bangladeshi communities and the Rohingya settlements is essential to the fight against COVID-19, and the humanitarian community is working hard to ensure that everyone has access to soap and water and hand washing facilities, hundreds of which have recently been installed, said the ISCG.

The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) has limited humanitarian operations in the Rohingya settlements to critical activities only, and UN agencies and NGO partners are fully supporting this essential public health measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to ISCG.

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Critical lifesaving activities must continue to enable Rohingya refugees to shelter in place, it said.

These include strengthened health and nutrition programmes, enhanced water, sanitation and hygiene activities, the distribution of food and cooking fuel, and communication with communities on COVID-19 risks and preventive measures.

Procedures in Place

The government and humanitarian agencies have put procedures in place to manage suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the Rohingya community and Bangladeshis living in nearby localities.

Health workers in the camps have received Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) trainings, including on the appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

UN agencies and NGOs have been working closely with the government to prepare for the day when the COVID-19 pandemic would reach the Rohingya settlements.

Over 130 local Bangladeshis in Cox’s Bazar have already tested positive for the virus.

For many weeks, working closely with the authorities, the humanitarian community has implemented preventive and preparedness actions in both the camps and Bangladeshi communities that operationalises the government’s directives aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The fact that the first COVID-19 positive case has appeared only now, after many weeks, demonstrates the effectiveness of these efforts, the ISCG said.