First Rohingya Death From COVID-19 Reported in Bangladesh Refugee Camp

By Muktadir Rashid   2 June 2020

DHAKA—A sample taken from an elderly Rohingya man who died on Sunday in a hospital in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday night, according to local officials, who vowed to redouble their efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the area’s densely populated refugee camps.

The deceased man was identified as Abul Khair, 71, a resident of the Kutupalong camp, according to other camp residents. He had been admitted to a field hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières located in Ukhia subdistrict.

The officials said on Tuesday they were preparing medical facilities and an isolation center with capacity for 1,900 people, for both displaced Rohingya from Myanmar and the host community, while restricting the movement of around 15,000 Rohingya people, mostly in the Kutupalong refugee camp.

“This is the first Rohingya death of COVID-19,” said Mahbubur Rahman, the senior health official in Cox’s Bazar district, on Tuesday after confirming the report.

“We have yet to receive his complete report,” he added.

Officials from the Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) in Cox’s Bazar said they had traced the deceased man’s contacts and around a dozen people had already been isolated.

Mohammad Shamsu Douza, a refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said the man was admitted to the hospital after showing symptoms of COVID-19. A sample was taken from him hours before he died, and it returned positive the following day.

The officials said that as of May 30, 333 Rohingya had been tested for COVID-19 after displaying symptoms of the disease. According to Shamsu Douza, 29 of these patients (not including the man who died on Sunday), tested positive and are currently isolated in treatment centers. The range in age from minors to the elderly, he said.

The Bangladeshi official told The Irrawaddy that over 15,000 people in the refugee camps were under orders restricting their movements, adding that special measures had been implemented to maintain their supply of food and other daily necessities. “Most of the infected people are from the Kutupalong camp,” he added.

Since April 8, the RRRC has limited humanitarian operations in the Rohingya settlements to those deemed critical.

Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, assistant communications officer for the Bangladesh chapter of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement that two Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Centers (SARI ITCs) were set up in Cox’s Bazar on May 18, just four days after the first Rohingya tested positive on May 14.

“So far, we have inaugurated one in Kutupalong (50 beds) and another in Ukhiya (145 beds). The overall target is to build [a] total of 12 SARI ITCs like these across the whole of Cox’s Bazar district, which will have [a] total [of] 1,900 beds, and these will be open to both refugees and Bangladeshis,” the statement reads.

In a statement in May, the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) said information is the best defense against COVID-19, adding that its humanitarian partners were ensuring effective communications and outreach through radio spots, videos, posters and messages in the Rohingya and Burmese languages in the camps and in the Bengali language in the local communities.

However, Rohingya Students Network executive director Sawyeddollah said in a statement that camp residents had virtually no access to information on COVID-19 as they have been without internet access since September 2019.

He said lifting the internet restrictions was essential for two reasons: to prevent human trafficking and to fight against the pandemic.

“Once we can have enough information related to COVID-19, our people could prevent themselves from this pandemic,” the statement reads.

“In refugee camps, maintaining social distancing is almost impossible since we live in overcrowded camps. We do not have enough sanitary kits to wash our hands. The face masks we received through the INGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are not enough,” it adds.

As of Monday, according to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, there were 49,534 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bangladesh, including 672 related deaths, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 1.36 percent.

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