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The world’s largest refugee camp prepares for covid-19

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: (Published 26 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m1205

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Linked Editorial

Europe’s migrant containment policies threaten the response to covid-19

  1. Gaia Vince, science journalist and author
  1. London, UK
  1. gaiavince{at}

Nearly a million refugees live in overcrowded conditions in the camps of south Bangladesh. Gaia Vince reports on the growing fears of an imminent, catastrophic outbreak of covid-19

Bangladesh, with its 168 million inhabitants, is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world. Millions live cheek by jowl in slums, where 10 or more households share a toilet. People move around the country on packed buses, and still throng to markets and mosques. Last week, for instance, tens of thousands gathered in a field to pray for an end to covid-19.

On 26 March the government imposed a lockdown, including banning public transport, in a bid to combat the growing pandemic, although hundreds of workers have been crowding onto private vehicles, such as trucks, instead. Bangladesh has seen the number of confirmed cases of covid-19 rise above 39, with four known deaths. The south Asian nation responded earlier in March by banning flights, shutting down schools, and promoting hygiene and social distancing measures. With very limited testing, however, and only in the capital, Dhaka, the true number of cases is expected to be far higher, and the low income nation’s capacity to treat critically ill patients is limited.

And there’s one further factor—the overcrowded conditions of the world’s biggest refugee camp, located in Cox’s Bazar in the far south east of Bangladesh.

The second poorest district in the country, Cox’s Bazar is home to over 855 000 Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar (former Burma), as well as visiting aid workers.1

The refugees are survivors of a massacre, carried out by Myanmar’s military, of the country’s minority Muslim population. The refugees live on a hastily deforested hillside, with families, densely packed, sleeping on mats in one room shacks …

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