HotSpots H2O: First Case of Covid-19 Confirmed in Crowded Rohingya Refugee Camps

View of the sprawling Kutupalong refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of UK Department for International Development/Flickr.

The first case of Covid-19 has been confirmed in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, in Bangladesh, which has been preparing for months for the arrival of the illness. 

One infected person is an ethnic Rohingya housed inside the camps. The other is a resident living nearby. Both are now in an isolation center. Within the camps, aid workers are rushing to contain the spread of the virus amid crowded conditions. 

The Rohingya refugee camps are located in an area of southern Bangladesh known as Cox’s Bazar. They are home to more than one million Rohingya who fled a military crackdown in neighboring Myanmar starting in 2017. 

The camps are more tightly packed than many of the world’s largest cities, and face a chronic shortage of adequate water, healthcare, and sanitation systems. The basic directives for preventing the spread of the virus, including social distancing and handwashing, are nearly impossible in many places. 

“Here, people are living 40,000 to 70,000 people per square kilometer. That’s at least 1.6 times the population density on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where the disease spread four times as fast than in Wuhan at the peak of the outbreak,” Manish Agrawal, Bangladesh Country Director at the International Rescue Committee, told Reuters

Agrawal cautions that care must be taken to improve hygiene across the camps, and promptly handle suspected cases.

“Without efforts to increase healthcare access, improve sanitation, isolate suspected cases and decongest the camp the disease will devastate the refugee and local population here, where there is a much lower standard of living and a higher rate of existing illness that make refugees more susceptible to the virus.”

Since the disease began to spread, aid workers have been trained in detecting and addressing suspected cases of the virus. Efforts have also been made to educate refugees about Covid-19 symptoms and prevention methods. Aid groups say that these measures should continue, and are also calling for an increase in funding

As of Sunday evening, 22,268 Covid-19 cases had been reported in Bangladesh, with a total of 328 deaths.  

Past Circle of Blue coverage on the Rohingya refugee camps:
HotSpots H2O: Spotlight on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis
HotSpots H2O: Rohingya Refugees Face Uncertain Return Home

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