At least 15,000 Rohingya refugees are under quarantine in Bangladesh’s vast camps, as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections there rose to 29.
Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped settlements, housing almost a million Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar, and officials had restricted movement in the area in April.
Despite this, the first cases in the camps were detected in mid-May.
“None of the infections are critical. Most hardly show any symptoms. Still, we have brought them in isolation centres and quarantined their families,” Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the surrounding Cox’s Bazar area told AFP news agency on Monday.
He said narrow roads to three camp districts – where the majority of the infections were detected – have been blocked off by authorities.
The 15,000 Rohingya inside these so-called blocks faced further restrictions on their movement, he said.
This comes as charity workers expressed fears over being infected in the camps as they worked without adequate protection.
Two of the areas under isolation are in Kutupalong camp, home to roughly 600,000 Rohingya.
“We are trying to scale up testing as fast as possible to make sure that we can trace out all the infected people and their contacts,” Bhuiyan said.
Seven isolation centres with the capacity to treat more than 700 COVID-19 patients have been prepared, he said, with officials hoping to have just under 2,000 by the end of May.
But, according to Nay San Lwin, co-founder of Free Rohingya Coalition, there are not enough ICU beds and ventilators available for refugees and the local community in Cox’s Bazar region.
Mahbubur Rahman, chief health official of Cox’s Bazar, said authorities hoped this week they would double the number of tests being performed daily, which stand at 188.
He said further entry restrictions have been imposed on the camp, with a 14-day quarantine in place for anyone visiting from Dhaka.
“We are very worried because the Rohingya camps are very densely populated. We suspect community transmission (of the virus) has already begun,” Rahman told AFP.
Bangladesh on Monday had a record single-day spike in coronavirus cases, with 1,975 new infections, taking the toll to 35,585 cases and 501 deaths.
In early April, authorities imposed a complete lockdown on Cox’s Bazar district – home to 3.4 million people including the refugees – after a number of infections outside of the camps.
Charity workers and activists have raised concerns about the lack of hygiene and protection in the camps.
“As the camps are overcrowded, social distancing is almost impossible,” Lwin told Al Jazeera.
There is also a lack of awareness about the virus, he added, after local authorities cut off access to the internet in September to combat, they said, drug traffickers and other criminals.
“Many are unaware of how this disease spreads, how to prevent and contain,” Lwin said.
“Unlike global citizens, their suffering is a bit more than others. Others can access information to prevent from being infected, but Rohingya in the camps are not even allowed access to information.”
More than 740,000 Rohingya fled a brutal 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar, where some 200,000 refugees were already living.
Additional reporting by Saba Aziz: @saba_aziz.