As many as 100,000 people defied Bangladesh’s corona virus lockdown to attend the funeral of a leading Islamic cleric on Saturday. The authorities said the enormous throng gathered in the Brahmanbaria district, about 60km east of the capital Dhaka, despite a ban on gatherings of more of five people.
They came to mark the death of Maulana Jubayer Ahmed Ansari, a popular figure in Bangladesh’s Islamist party, who died on Friday aged 56.
Tens of thousands walked miles, reportedly blocking the motorways, to pay their respects, defying the government’s advice to stay home and avoid other people. In response to the funeral crowds, Bangladesh’s government has tightened its clampdown on seven villages in the district.
Although the nation has only so far identified 101 deaths from corona virus and just 2,948 cases, this is thought to be a significant under-estimate because of a lack of testing capacity and poor healthcare infrastructure.
Many experts fear corona virus could wreak havoc in the densely-populated nation of 160 million people. Despite the government imposing a lockdown along with much of the rest of the world, it has been widely flouting, raising the chances of widespread transmission of the disease within Bangladesh.
The local police force in Brahmanbaria had not expected such large crowds for the funeral of Ansari and were reportedly unable to prevent the hordes of people from descending upon the madrassa where the cleric was due to be buried. Two local officers have been removed from their duties while a committee investigates how such a huge breach of the lockdown was able to take place.
Despite pleas from the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, many Bangladeshis are continuing to attend Friday prayers and other services at mosques.
Officials warned the start of month of fasting of Ramadan later this week will place even greater strain on the country’s fraying lockdown. The holy month normally sees more worshippers than usual gather at mosques.