The Financial Express

Fear grips bankers as coronavirus cases rise in Bangladesh

| Updated: April 10, 2020 09:49:24

Evaly and Fianancial Express Evaly and Fianancial Express
Fear grips bankers as coronavirus cases rise in Bangladesh

Fears of contracting the novel coronavirus are running rife among bankers in Dhaka following a recent surge in the number of infections, reports bdnews24.com.

Banks have continued offering services to clients amid the ongoing lockdown, though at a limited scale, but morale among staffers has been severely dented after an Agrani Bank official tested positive for coronavirus.

Clients come to the banks from different places and could easily spread the contagion to others, Mahmudur Rahman, branch manager in a private bank said.

It could also spread through the currency notes touched by an infected person, he added.

“We can’t identify an infected person and we are bound to provide services to all of our clients. Moreover, banks have not supplied any safety gear to its employees.”

The government imposed a countrywide shutdown in an effort to curb a further outbreak but banks have been asked to remain open as an emergency service while downscaling their operations.

Banking hours, however, are limited from 10 am to 12.30 pm, with the central bank asking bank authorities to discourage their clients from coming in during the lockdown.

Bangladesh Bank also issued a set of recommendations for heads of private banks, which include the formation of a ‘quick response team’.

Though offices and transport services are shut, people are still visiting banks, according to a few bankers. But bank staffers experience a lot of trouble commuting while clients are ignoring social distancing measures, increasing the risk of infection, they said.

On Wednesday, the principal branch of Agrani Bank in Motijheel was closed after one of its officials was diagnosed with coronavirus. At least 64 officials were quarantined.

Both the government and private banks are crowded with people visiting for different purposes, which include collecting salaries and allowances at the beginning of the month.

However, banks have not been able to make clients abide by the health and hygiene directives during the outbreak, according to Md Asaduzzaman, an official of Agrani Bank.

“If necessary, law enforcement agents should be deployed at banks. They will guard the entrance and prevent more than two people from entering at the same time,” he said.

“We understand that banks should remain open to run the economy. But our clients are not listening to us and never maintain the social distance. They’re standing close to each other,” said Asaduzzaman.

Md Nasiruddin, an official of a government bank in Motijheel, said the lack of transportation is a major problem for bankers right now. He faced a lot of trouble in commuting from Mirpur.

“I have to commute to work from Mirpur. I don’t own a car and so take a ride with my senior twice a week. On the other days I use public transport such as rickshaws or auto-rickshaws. I'm always afraid of catching the virus from these transports,” he said.

The situation is even worse for bankers outside Dhaka, according to some officials. A banker, choosing to remain anonymous, works in Narayangan's Rupganj but lives at Palash in Narsingdi. His commute to office has become even more cumbersome now due to the public transport shutdown.

“I change rickshaws five to six times en route to my office. The fare has skyrocketed to Tk 100 from Tk 10. On top of that, police stop us at every intersection. They drag me down and sometimes beat the rickshaw-puller,” he said,

“One of my colleagues from Dhaka came to inspect the ATM booth. Police fined him Tk 1,000 for ‘loitering' even after he showed them the proper papers," he added.

But law enforcers have also helped maintain order in banks, according to Mohamed Shamsul Islam, managing director of Agrani Bank.

"On Tuesday, we had to call the police to manage the crowd at our Amincourt branch. Police came and made them maintain queues. We don’t know how to continue providing services under these circumstances and Bangladesh Bank should give us a directive in this regard. We’ll follow it,” he mentioned.

The central bank directed banks to seek assistance from the administration to ensure their clients maintain social distancing to prevent the disease from spreading.



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