Every stall of the ongoing trade fair at Purbachal in the capital was full of buyers and visitors on Friday, brimming with thousands of people.
Despite the rapidly deteriorating pandemic situation in the country and the repeated announcements of the fair's authorities to follow health guidelines, social distancing remained a far cry at the trade fair as it was almost impossible to maintain health guidelines amid the huge crowds of people.
Hundreds of people lined up at the entrance of the fair without maintaining minimum social distancing. Sticking to each other, they were entering the fair.
Sellers at different stalls said there are more visitors than buyers.
Non-compliance with hygiene rules of an increasing number of visitors at the fair might contribute to a drastic surge in corona infections.
Saidur Rahman, manager of Mir Brothers that has leased the entrance to the fair, said, "More than 40,000 visitors came to the fair last Friday. Today, the number of visitors will surpass that."
Last Monday, the cabinet division issued an 11-point directive to contain the rapidly increasing rate of corona infections.
As per directives which came into effect from 13 January (Thursday), all kinds of social, political, and religious gatherings at open places are banned until further notice.
However, after the issuance of the directives, the commerce ministry said the ongoing trade fair would continue in accordance with the hygiene rules.
Crowds began to grow at the fair in Purbachal from noon on Friday. By afternoon, the fair venue at Bangabandhu Bangladesh-China Friendship Exhibition Centre was chock full of visitors. Some visitors bought products from the stalls, while some chatted and took photographs.
Maintaining health guidelines vanished into thin air as visitors thronging the stalls jostled one another. A good number of visitors walked around the fair premises wearing no mask at all, while some loitered with masks hanging around their chins. At the food court also, visitors were sitting without maintaining minimum social distancing.
Bipul Sarkar came to the fair from Narayanganj with 22 people, including his wife, children, and other relatives. With his mask hanging on his chin, he was carrying his 10-month-old grandson .
In reply to our query about why he was not wearing the mask properly, he said, "I wore it for a long time. I opened it just a while ago to take a breath of fresh air." Saying this, he wore the mask again. His grandson was not wearing a mask.
Sahel Mahmood, who came to the fair from Mirpur in the capital, said, "It seems the traditional form of trade fair has returned. Hygiene rules cannot be maintained fully in such a crowd."
Ansar Battalion member Zahirul Islam also echoed the same. He told TBS, "We are trying our best to make everyone aware so no one walks around without wearing a mask. However, social distance cannot be maintained in such a crowd."
Zahirul Islam came from Mirpur with seven family members. He bought sarees and crockery products. He said, "I got on the bus standing in line behind 150 people. Then I lined up behind about 200 people to buy tickets to enter the fair. The main entrance gate is so small there is no way to maintain social distance in these crowds. The entrance gate to the fair needs to be made larger, especially on Friday and Saturday."
Commenting on the overall situation at the fair in the afternoon, Director of the fair and Secretary of the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, told TBS, "We are making arrangements so that no one can enter the fair without wearing a mask.
We are making announcements at the fair about following the health guidelines. 100 Ansar members are also on duty in three shifts to ensure no one moves around on the fair premises without a mask. Today, 100 buses are running between Kuril and Purbachal, carrying visitors to the fair."
From afternoon till evening on Friday, all visitors who did not bring masks were entering the fair after buying masks from vendors selling masks. No one was allowed to enter the fair without a mask. Hand sanitisers were being provided at the main entrance of the fair. However, after entering the fair, many people were taking off their masks.
Crockeries, home decorating items, biscuits, ice cream, and women's and children's clothes were selling well at the fair.
The Jayeeta Foundation stall is showcasing products of more than 20 women entrepreneurs, including a variety of women's clothing, bed sheets, and pillow covers.
Jhumur Akhter, a salesperson at the stall, said sales are good today. "We are selling block batik sarees, prices ranging from Tk1,000 to Tk10,000."
Akhtar Furniture's Assistant Vice President (Sales) Dulal Roy said many visitors have come but the number of buyers is few. "We are focusing more on product promotion."
The pavilion of popular ice cream brands was doing well as hundreds of visitors thronged there. The visitors were reluctant to maintain hygiene rules, especially in the afternoon when scores of buyers flocked to the ice cream pavilion. Igloo, Savoy, Polar, and Milk Vita, were selling ice cream at their stalls in the pavilion.
Md Mehedi Hasan, a salesman of Savoy, said ice cream has now become a regular product. "Now many people are enjoying ice cream at the fair and we are trying to adhere to the hygiene rules as much as possible. The crowd grows bigger in the afternoon and evening on Fridays, Saturdays, and Thursdays.
The Dhaka International Trade Fair was closed last year due to the pandemic. At the last trade fair in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in 2020, there were 450 stalls and pavilions of different companies. This year, the number of stalls and pavilions at the fair has been halved (225).
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi, after inaugurating the trade fair, said, "The number of stalls at the fair has been reduced due to the pandemic situation. More open spaces have been kept so that visitors can move around on the fair premises in an open environment."
The month-long trade fair started on 1 January at Purbachal in the eastern part of the capital. The fair is on every day from 10am to 9pm. On holidays, the fair remains open until 10pm.