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Thousands put in quarantine at Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

In this file photo taken on May 15, 2020 Rohingya refugees gather at a market as first cases of COVID-19 coronavirus have emerged in the area, in Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh (Photo by AFP)

At least 15,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar are placed in quarantine in Bangladesh’s sprawling camps due to alleged spikes in coronavirus cases there, health officials say.

Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in Cox’s Bazar area said on Tuesday that narrow roads to three camp districts had been blocked off by authorities.

“None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still, we have brought them in isolation centers and quarantined their families,” Bhuiyan said.

“We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts,” he said.

In early April, authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox’s Bazar district after a number of infections outside of the camps.

Mahbubur Rahman, the regional chief health official, said further entry restrictions had been imposed on the camps.

“We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun,” Rahman said.

Health experts have long warned that the new coronavirus could race through the cramped settlements, which house more than a million refugees. Aid workers have expressed concern about an impending humanitarian catastrophe if a substantial spread of the virus takes place in the overcrowded refugee camps.

Sources say seven isolation centers with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared. But there are not enough intensive care unit (ICU) beds and ventilators available for the refugees and the local community in Cox’s Bazar.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in 2017 amid a state-sponsored, violent crackdown in the northwestern state of Rakhine. Most fled to Bangladesh, while others escaped to India, Thailand, Malaysia, and other parts of South and Southeast Asia.

Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the violence.

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