COX’S BAZAAR: Rohingya refugees infected with coronavirus are fleeing quarantine in their Bangladesh camps because they fear being transferred to an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal, community leaders said on Thursday.

At least two infected refugees have gone missing since testing positive for the virus after the first Covid-19 death was reported on Tuesday, they said.

About one million Rohingya, most of whom fled a military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017, are packed into camps along the Bangladesh border, and the coronavirus has become the latest cause of misery.

Aid agencies have long warned that the virus could cause chaos in the overcrowded camps, where social distancing is virtually impossible.

So far only 29 infections have been detected, although 16,000 Rohingya are in quarantine zones within the camps.

It was not immediately clear how many tests have been conducted in the camps, but a senior health official said two people who proved positive had “fled the isolation hospital”.

He added that only 20 refugees agreed to be tested in the past two days because they believe those infected will be sent to Bhashan Char island in the Bay of Bengal.

“It has created mass panic,” said Nurul Islam, a community leader.

Bangladesh authorities have long wanted to establish a camp for 100,000 people on the isolated island, and have already sent 306 Rohingya there.

“The Rohingya are petrified,” the health official said on condition of anonymity. “We have told them they won’t be sent anywhere.”

Some 500 isolation beds have been prepared in the camps, but most are empty because so few confirmed cases have been found, according to the official.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2020