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UN calls for boosting measures to curb coronavirus impact in Bangladeshi Rohingya camps

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UNITED NATIONS : The first case of Rohingya refugee infected by a coronavirus in the tightly-packed Bangladeshi Kutapalong settlement in Cox’s Bazar has been confirmed, United Nations refugee agency says, causing fear that it could sweep through camp.

UNHCR Spokesman Andrej Mahecic said that Bangladeshi officials reported that a positive test was also confirmed in one individual who is part of the local Bangladeshi host community.

“There are serious concerns about the potentially severe impact of the virus in a densely populated refugee settlement, sheltering some 860,000 Rohingya refugees,” Mahecic said in a video conference. “Another 400,000 Bangladeshis live in the surrounding host communities. These populations are considered to be among the most at risk globally in this pandemic.”

“No effort must be spared if higher fatality rates are to be avoided in overcrowded sites with limited health and water and sanitation infrastructure,” he said.

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Meanwhile, UN agencies, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), have said they have already put in place a series of concerted COVID-19 contingency measures in Cox’s Bazar, upgrading triage areas in 35 primary care facilities along with three isolation and treatment centres.

Also nearing completion is a quarantine centre, large enough to accommodate 465 people and 250 beds for people suffering from a severe acute respiratory infection.

Although the arrival of the pandemic was expected, it adds further pressure on extremely vulnerable individuals preparing for the approaching monsoon season.

This coming August marks three years since the mainly ethnic Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar fled violent persecution in neighbouring Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

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Last year, 16,000 people were affected in a single 24-hour period during one of the heaviest downpours.

To help, the World Food Programme (WFP) is busy clearing drains and stabilizing slopes that have the potential to give way in heavy rain.

The agency has warned that COVID-19 threatens to reverse development gains made by Bangladesh in the last 50 years and has appealed for $320 million to help the most vulnerable.

Some $200 million of this funding is required for the agency’s COVID-19 response in Bangladesh and the remaining $120 million is needed to help the mainly-Muslim ethnic Rohingya for the next six months.

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“Lockdowns and restrictions in movement are affecting livelihoods of millions across Bangladesh, especially daily wage earners like rickshaw drivers, day labourers who now find themselves unable to meet their basic needs”, WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said.

Under WFP’s scheme, the funding will ensure food security for families in rural areas and urban slums, as well as day labourers.

In the meantime, the agency has maintained national distributions of fortified rice, cash transfers and nutrition programmes, to complement Government assistance.

It has also begun building storage areas for food and non-food items necessary for the COVID-19 response, including personal protective equipment, and is helping other humanitarian agencies by moving supplies into and around Bangladesh.

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