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Aid groups alarmed as Rohingya tests positive for COVID-19 in the densely populated camps, home to a million refugees.
A Rohingya refugee has become the first person to test positive for COVID-19 in the vast camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, that house almost a million people, officials said Thursday. At the same time, humanitarian groups have warned the infection could devastate the crowded settlement.
The local health coordinator, Abu Toha Bhuiyan, initially said two refugees had been put into isolation. The World Health Organization later said one case was of a Rohingya man, and the other was of a local man who lived near the camp and was being treated at a clinic inside the area.
“Today they have been taken to an isolation center after they tested positive,” Mahbub Alam Talukder, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, told Reuters by phone.
For his part, Catalin Bercaru, a WHO spokesman, said rapid investigation teams were being deployed to follow up on the two cases. The patients’ contacts are being traced for quarantine and testing. Local authorities said prevention measures and testing were being stepped up.
Health experts have been warning for some time that the virus could race through the sprawling, unsanitary camps that have been home to the refugees since they fled a military offensive in Myanmar more than two years ago.
Save the Children’s health director in Bangladesh, Dr. Shamim Jahan said in a statement the virus already had overwhelmed the country. Hence, the confirmed case in the camps worsens the situation.
“There are only an estimated 2,000 ventilators in all of Bangladesh, serving a population of 160 million people. In the Rohingya refugee camps – home to nearly a million people – there are no intensive care beds at this moment,” he said.
“Now that the virus has entered the world’s largest refugee settlement in Cox’s Bazar, we are looking at the very real prospect that thousands of people may die from COVID-19. This pandemic could set Bangladesh back by decades,” he warned.
Health facilities lack staff and space, while people in the camps do not have enough soap and water or space to protect themselves, Manish Agrawal, Bangladesh Country Director at the International Rescue Committee said.
“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,” he said.
“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,” he added.
More than 730,000 Rohingya arrived from Myanmar in late 2017 after fleeing a military crackdown. Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice in the Hague over the violence. The army denies genocide, saying it was fighting a legitimate battle against Rohingya militants who attacked first.