UK minister makes ‘virtual visit’ to Bangladesh for pandemic

British International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan saw on Wednesday how UK aid is working with the government of Bangladesh to tackle coronavirus.

On a ‘virtual visit’ to Bangladesh, a first for a UK Minister, Trevelyan met with Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and also saw how UK-backed isolation and treatment centres will help protect Bangladeshi and Rohingya communities in Cox’s Bazar from the pandemic.

The UK has dedicated at least £21 million to tackle coronavirus in Bangladesh, where 120,000 cases have been reported. Its support will save lives by slowing the rapid spread of the disease and boosting struggling health services, the British High Commission said.

During the virtual visit, Trevelyan talked to the staff of BRAC, which has mobilised 50,000 community health workers with UK aid support to reach more than five million Bangladeshi people in remote, deprived communities, giving them public health information about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus and stay safe.

Trevelyan visited, via a video call, the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where social distancing is near impossible due to the cramped conditions.

UK aid is supporting the construction of vital isolation and treatment centres (ITCs) in Cox’s Bazar, making available over 600 beds for treating both Rohingya refugees and people from Bangladeshi communities, who develop severe acute respiratory infections due to contracting coronavirus.

“Coronavirus is the biggest public health emergency in a generation. UK aid is committed to helping Bangladesh and the Rohingya people through this devastating crisis,” she was quoted as saying in a statement.

“I saw the incredible international work across the country and in Cox’s Bazar to stop the spread of coronavirus and improve healthcare. The UK is proud to play our role, so we can help save lives and protect those in need.

“I am grateful to the Government and people of Bangladesh for their extraordinary generosity and support for the Rohingya refugees.

“The UK will continue to work with the Government of Bangladesh, international partners and the UN Security Council to enable the Rohingyas to return home to Rakhine in a safe, dignified and voluntary manner, and to support them until that is possible,” she said.

The International Development Secretary spoke with Sarah Collis, the team leader of the UK Emergency Medical Team, which is working alongside Bangladeshi medics and the International Organisation for Migration to setup the ITCs and respond to cases in the camps.

She also saw the World Food Programme’s emergency food response to the pandemic, backed by UK aid, which is helping to meet the basic food needs of 100,000 Rohingya refugees and helping 53,000 of the most vulnerable Bangladeshis living around the camps to cope with the crippling economic impact of the pandemic.

British High Commissioner Robert Chatterton Dickson said the virtual visit allowed the Secretary of State “to see the breadth and depth of UK support for the country, and underlined the UK’s strong commitment to Bangladesh in the face of the coronavirus challenge.”