An outbreak of coronavirus threatens Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Find out more about the threat the virus poses in the world's largest refugee settlement


Last updated 4 August 2023

Cox’s Bazar is home to the largest refugee camp in the world. Right now, an estimated 1.24 million people are packed into sprawling makeshift settlements and overcrowded camps.

Life for those escaping conflict and seeking sanctuary in Cox’s Bazar was difficult already. There is limited access to clean water, food and basic healthcare. Cramped conditions encourage the spread of disease. The unfolding cyclone and monsoon season – marked by the recent arrival of Cyclone Amphan - threatens deadly flash floods.

And now, the nightmare of a coronavirus outbreak could become a devastating reality. The first cases of the virus in Cox’s Bazar were confirmed on 14th May 2020.

Squalid living spaces make social distancing impossible and maintaining safe hygiene extremely difficult. The effects on a community already without stable health and economic protection are unthinkable. Language barriers, uncertainty due to unconfirmed legal statuses and limited access to critical care mean many in Cox’s Bazar are in grave danger.

A quick, comprehensive humanitarian response is the only hope for those at risk. That’s why the British Red Cross has launched its global coronavirus appeal.


How did the crisis in Cox’s Bazar begin?

Since the escalation of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, in late August 2017, people have streamed into Bangladesh and found their way to the relative safety of Cox’s Bazar. 

While movements of this kind are not new –thousands have taken the same paths since the 1980s – the scale and speed of the recent influx was unprecedented.

Hundreds of thousands of people arrived in the space of just a few weeks, and support systems creaked under overwhelming demand.

Almost three years on, there are still no easy solutions. Uncertainty remains for those displaced. 


What is the Red Cross doing to help protect people from coronavirus in Cox’s Bazar?

The Red Cross’ priority is to support people who are most at risk during the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes those living in makeshift camp settlements like Cox’s Bazar.

Hundreds of staff and volunteers from our partners the Bangladesh Red Crescent are working tirelessly to reach people with food, clean water and health services. Two isolation and treatment centres have been set up to support the most vulnerable. Additional ambulances will soon arrive.

Staff and volunteers have been trained in emergency coronavirus response, and we are working to ensure there are increased stocks of medical supplies and protective equipment to help keep frontline health workers safe.

One of their first tasks is working in several languages to share vital information on hygiene and how to stay safe. They are also running informational workshops, giving psychosocial support, connecting people with basic health services, and helping to refer severe cases to medical facilities - regardless of anyone’s legal or citizenship status.

People and families living in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar have already escaped terrible violence. Now, their future hangs in the balance again. And that’s why we’re doing all we can to help.

Learn more about our work during the coronavirus pandemic

Donate to our Global Coronavirus Appeal

Coronavirus is spreading in the world's most vulnerable communities, with the safety of millions at stake. Please help the Red Cross continue our vital work and help the most vulnerable people in society.