Crowded in camps, Rohingya refugees vulnerable to virus

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In this Wednesday, April 1, 2020, photo, Rohingya refugees stand at the Kutupalong refugee camp, Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh. Aid workers are bracing for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus in one of the world's largest refugee camps in Bangladesh, but officials are already warning that containing the disease among more than 1 million tightly packed Rohingya Muslims will be a daunting task. (AP Photo/Suzauddin Rubel)

DHAKA – Aid workers are bracing for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus in one of the world's largest refugee camps in Bangladesh, with officials warning that containing the disease among more than 1 million tightly packed Rohingya Muslims will be a daunting task.

With about 40,000 people per square kilometer (103,600 per square mile) living in plastic shacks side by side, which is more than 40 times the average density of Bangladesh, the refugees are dangerously exposed to the virus.

Each shack is barely 10 square meters (107 square feet) and many are overcrowded with up to 12 people.

There have been no reported cases of infection in the camps yet, but officials remain concerned. The U.N. is not doing any testing for the virus but sends any suspected cases to a government hospital.

“We are doing our best to protect them, but if the virus breaks out it will be a tough job for all of us,” Mohammad Shamsuddoza, the additional refugee, relief and repatriation commissioner of Bangladesh, told The Associated Press by phone from Cox’s Bazar on the border with Myanmar, from where the Rohingya have fled a government crackdown.

He said the 34 camps are a major challenge despite preparations to provide better health care services.

“It’s overcrowded, every family has multiple members,” he said. “So this is practically very difficult to keep them separated.”

Rachel Wolff, senior director for the aid group World Vision in Cox’s Bazar, said “social distancing is almost impossible for families.”