The first COVID-19 positive case within the Rohingya refugee community was confirmed on 14 May. As of 31 May, some 27 cases have tested positive for COVID-19, including children. Over 220 Rohingya refugees are in quarantine, and several camps are under movement restrictions. The cases in the camp come at a time when there are continued cases confirmed both nationally in Bangladesh and locally in Cox’s Bazar. Over 450 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Cox’s Bazar to date, including a number of front-line healthcare staff.
The challenges in the response to COVID-19 have been compounded by weather conditions in Cox’s Bazar.
Cyclone Amphan passed through the Bay of Bengal during mid-May and made landfall in India’s West Bengal and Bangladeshi coastal areas in the northern part of the Bay on 20 May. While the cyclone’s path was far from Cox’s Bazar, heavy rain and winds in the camps still caused damage to over 1,400 shelters and forced over 100 refugee families into communal shelters, or to live temporarily with family or neighbours. Further, two large fires also destroyed homes in Kutupalong during May and displaced households.
The congested nature of the camps has made social distancing very challenging. Key messaging on the risks associated with the virus continues to be provided through community level outreach carried out by refugee volunteers. UNHCR has started to also introduce messaging through mobile SMS. While internet coverage is absent, many refugees can receive text messages on their mobile phones. An increased state of anxiety was present in the camps on confirmation of the first confirmed cases.