First coronavirus case confirmed in Rohingya refugee settlements

Bangladesh's government faces the danger of the virus spreading among the Rohingya people

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and partner organizations have further intensified their COVID-19 response in the Rohingya refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh, following the first confirmed case of coronavirus among the refugee population yesterday. Since March, UNHCR and partners have been supporting the Government of Bangladesh primarily in COVID-19 preparation and prevention efforts. With this first confirmed case, response mechanisms have now been activated and will require additional international support.

According to the Government of Bangladesh, one Rohingya refugee has tested positive for COVID-19 in the Kutupalong refugee settlement in Bangladesh. In addition, one member of the local Bangladeshi host community has also tested positive. Both had approached health facilities run by humanitarian partners, where samples were taken. These were subsequently tested in the IEDCR Field Laboratory in Cox’s Bazar.

Following the laboratory confirmation, Rapid Investigation Teams have been activated to investigate both cases, initiate isolation and treatment of patients as well as tracing contacts, quarantine and testing of contacts as per WHO guidelines.

There are serious concerns about the potentially severe impact of the virus in the densely populated refugee settlements sheltering some 860,000 Rohingya refugees. Another 400,000 Bangladeshis live in the surrounding host communities. These populations are considered to be among the most at risk globally in this pandemic. No effort must be spared if higher fatality rates are to be avoided in overcrowded sites with limited health and water and sanitation infrastructure.