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According to the figures of World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 46 per cent people in Bangladesh have received the first dose and about 32 per cent have got both doses. The government has an account of how many of the students aged between 12 to 18 years have been vaccinated. But the government does not have any specific statistics about others.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Mushtaq Hossain, advisor of Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said there is enough vaccines in the country at the moment. The transport workers can easily get vaccinated if they want. The transport owners or the workers’ orgainsations can discuss with the government and make arrangements to vaccinate the workers at the terminals. The issue of compulsory vaccine certificates for the transport workers may need to be relaxed at the initial stages. Everyone should be brought under the vaccination programme within this time.

The transport leaders say the transport workers are considered a backward community. They have less awareness regarding vaccination and complying with health guidelines.

An 11-point directive was issued by the cabinet division on Monday in the wake of a surge in coronavirus transmission. One of these points says buses, trains and launches must operate with half of their passenger capacity. Concerned authorities will issue the directives in this regard with a specific date of implementation. Drivers and helpers of all types of transport services must have a vaccine certificate.

The transport sector is under the Ministry of Road Transport and Bridges and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). Sources of the ministry and BRTA say they only have the notification comprising the 11-point directives. They don’t have any idea as to how it will be implemented.

In this situation, a meeting has been called at the BRTA office in Banani on Wednesday at 2.30pm with the transport owners, worker’s leaders and other concerned persons. BRTA officials think that at this meeting, vaccination of the workers may not matter. The transport fare may get more priority. This is because neither the BRTA nor the Ministry of Road Transport has the authority to vaccinate.

Regarding this, BRTA chairman Nur Mohammad told Prothom Alo that there is no data as to whether all the transport workers have been vaccinated or not. It will be discussed with the transport owners and workers’ leaders in Wednesday’s meeting. A way would be found.

Regarding the fare, he said the government will consider people’s interest with utmost importance.

Vaccination of the workers wasn’t prioritised

Moktar Hossain, a bus driver on Dhaka's Abdullahpur-Gulistan route, has not yet been vaccinated. He lives in Tongi. He told Prothom Alo that he gets on the bus at six in the morning and gets off at midnight. He doesn't even know where his national identity card is. As a result, he didn’t get vaccinated.

According to the labour organisations, there are about 5 million transport workers in the country. Besides, some 2 million more workers are involved in the maintenance of the vehicles. In total, there are about 70 million workers in the transport sector. Of them, about one million work in buses alone.

Osman Ali, general secretary of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, told Prothom Alo that apart from the trips, the transport workers spend most of the time at bus terminals. Many of them live near the bus terminals. Considering these factors they proposed to set up vaccination centres at the terminals to vaccinate the transport workers. However, no initiative has been taken. There was even no meeting with the transport owners and workers on how the workers could get vaccinated.

When asked how much of the transport workers have been vaccinated, he said they do not have any account on this.

The situation is the same in case of water transport. According to the figures of the Water Transport Workers’ Federation, there are more than 200,000 workers in the water transport sector. There is no account on how many of them have been vaccinated.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, general secretary of the federation, said it would be possible to implement the government’s directives if a special programme is run at different terminals simultaneously.

The railway workers, who are involved in operating the trains all the time, are known as ‘running staff’. The master, assistant master, TTE and attendant of a train are included in this. The number of this type of employees is around 2,000. They have got the scope to get vaccinated as frontline workers. The railway officials think that most of them have been vaccinated.

Complications over transport fare

Due to the spike in the price of fuel, the government increased the fare of city and highway bus services by 27 per cent at most. However, the owners and workers have collected even higher fare from the passengers. The mobile court operated by the BRTA could not stop that. Therefore, the obligation to operate public transport with half of its passenger capacity may instigate another crisis regarding transport fare. However, train fares are not increasing. According to the railway authorities, the train will run with half the passengers from next Saturday.

Government sources said the secretaries of the concerned ministries met before issuing instructions from the cabinet division. There was talk of not decreasing the passenger limit to half. Last year, however, fares for all types of buses were increased by 60 per cent for operating with half the passengers.

Khandoker Enayet Ullah, general secretary of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, told Prothom Alo, “The fare should be increased if we are allowed to operate with half of our passenger capacity.”

When asked about the compulsory vaccine certificate for the transport workers, he said, “Where half of the people of the country have not been, how will all the transport workers get vaccinated? The government hasn’t taken any special initiative in this regard either.”

Government sources say it is impossible to vaccinate all the transport workers without any special campaign. However, the increase in fare will create an extra burden for the passengers.

Already the transport owners have officially demanded for a 60 per cent increase in the fare. Even if the fare is increased by 50 per cent, it will be difficult for the passengers to bear it, because, at this rate the fare of buses on Dhaka-Chattogram will exceed Tk 2000. The fare of launches will also go beyond the capacity of the passengers.

*This report originally appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been re-written in English by Ashish Basu

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