Bangladesh confirms first death due to COVID-19 in Rohingya refugee camps


A 71-year-old man has become the first Rohingya in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh to die from the coronavirus.

Bimal Chakma, a senior official of the government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission said, the man who died on May 31 tested positive for COVID-19 and was undergoing treatment at an isolation centre.

Health experts have long warned that the deadly virus could race through the vast cramped network of bamboo shacks housing almost a million refugees who have fled neighbouring Myanmar since a military crackdown in 2017.

At least 29 Rohingya have tested positive for the virus so far since the first case was detected on May 14.

Officials said 339 tests have been conducted among Rohingya in the camps so far.

“We are living in fear about what we are going to do if there is a big outbreak,” Rohingya refugee Mohammed Rafiq said by phone.

Bangladesh has seen a spike in infections in recent weeks, with 52,445 confirmed cases and 709 deaths.

“We are all working round the clock to ensure that testing is available to refugees,” said Louise Donovan, spokesperson for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar.

“Those who are identified as COVID-19 positive have adequate facilities in place to care for them, and to ensure contact tracing and isolation of those who may have been exposed.”

As many as 60,000 to 90,000 people are jammed into each square kilometre, with families of up to a dozen sharing small shelters.

“It is a ticking time bomb,” said Alejandro Agustin Cuyar, Relief International charity’s Cox’s Bazar programme director.

Cuyar said the refugee camps were overcrowded, with shared water sources and communal toilets and washing facilities.

“Once the virus takes hold, it will be incredibly challenging to flatten the curve, so we are gravely concerned the numbers needing treatment will soon be overwhelming.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)