MNA Editorial Desk: Coronavirus has spread throughout the world within a very short time. It has come out as a strike on humanity. The whole world is fighting this deadly pandemic. But it is hard to say, at which stage we are standing right now. Till now more than 2.3 million people got affected while over 0.16 million lost their lives worldwide. The scenario in Bangladesh is just getting worse day by day as till now 101 lives were lost while 2,948 became victims of this pandemic. Not only on human lives but also on every aspect of our society, community, nation and especially economy, coronavirus is going to leave a deep mark. Right now, every nation of the world is focused on safeguarding their economy along with human lives. Bangladesh government has also taken many steps but the execution and way of execution is going to be of most importance.
The Bangladeshi government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already declared several stimulus packages to boost the economy during and after the COVID-19 crisis period. She announced huge financial package in efforts to face the possible impact of the coronavirus on the economy. Special focus was provided on supporting manufacturing industries, small and medium enterprises and uninterrupted agricultural production. Moreover, ensuring food security especially for the lower income people was a major concern addressed. Along with that, several steps were taken to support the medical staffs. Though initially the government was taking short-term plans, the Prime Minister at Parliament on Sunday said that, the government is working with a three-year plan which is really necessary right now as this pandemic scenario will impact the global economy along with that of Bangladesh for at least two-three years.
It is unfortunate that, though Bangladesh was not hit by COVID-19 at the first stages, our healthcare facility lacked any sort of preparation. Though the government is incrementally increasing the facilities, we cannot offset the fact that, our healthcare system was very poor from the beginning of this pandemic. Initially there was chaos and panic everywhere.
The doctors were not having any protective equipment, there was no proper ICU or ventilator support for the infected patients, there were very few separate corona units and private hospitals, which provide medical service to a major portion of the people, stopped working. Hence, during this corona pandemic and for later also, as more pandemics like COVID-19 will appear in the future, we need to provide higher budget allocation for the health sector and need to utilize that budget with utmost honesty.
Our medical staffs and the government initially reach into a position of confrontation due to the failure of health ministry, mostly over the issue of safety during performing duties. Though we are being informed that, there is enough protective equipments for the doctors now, there is still lack of trust as incidents like fake N95 mask distribution is coming under light. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has declared insurance facility and special reward for the doctors recently and is trying to provide good facility for them. But everyone else should pay due respect to these frontline soldiers and the health ministry should focus on their facilities in the upcoming future also. Not only the metro cities, but also at every district headquarter, there should be a public hospital with all sort of modern medical facilities.
The government is trying hard to keep the economy rolling as that will ensure the future of millions of Bangladeshis. Along with several stimulus package, Bangladesh Bank has also been actively working to respond to the increasingly challenging circumstance. The central bank is expected to come up with more responses with the changing circumstances and developments especially in respect of monetary policy.
Since the attack of this virus in Bangladesh is a very recently identified case with very low scale, questions may arise whether this will affect us economically. The answer is very simple. When giant economies like US, China, Japan, Germany, Britain,France and Italy are affected, the rest of the world will not be spared from the blow as these economies carry almost 60% of world supply and demand in terms of GDP, 65% of world manufacturing and 41% of manufacturing exports, as per a report of the World Trade Organization published in 2020.
Though there were several proposals from different stakeholders and despite the government having a plan, we are yet to see a taskforce in action. We are approaching the season of natural disasters like; heavy storm and rainfall, flood, landslide etc. soon and along with COVID-19 spread, the scenario will be tougher and we need an inclusive plan. Hence, A taskforce must be formed soon with representatives of different stakeholders as well as experts from different areas to formulate an all-inclusive plan to combat this crisis. We need to focus on economy, humanitarian factors and especially food security. All the plans should be focus on long-term, at least a 3-5 years span, probable impact. Then we should move on with that plan.
Moreover, it is now a time to welcome ideas. The government should form a special media cell, who will collect and conduct analysis on different suggestions and perspectives which is coming from different experts and even ordinary people everyday in the print and electronic media. We never know, a plan from there might just be the savior of this nation.
The government declared that 50 lac additional ration card will be provided throughout Bangladesh along with the existing 50 lac ration card in place, which will ensure food security for a total of 50 million people. As we are finding hundreds of stories about corruption in distribution of relief materials, these ration cards will be another tool of corruption. As the local leaders will monitor this ration card allocation, there will be huge discrimination and many needy families will be left out. The ration card facility should be extended for all middle and lower income class people. This should be tagged along with the national identification card (NID).
We should not focus only on the lower income group and must include middle income group in this sort of facility as they are suffering most and if these groups are not saved, then the nation will have several adverse effects on its economy like tax and other revenue collections. Moreover, most of the future potential human resources to lead this country in different sectors hail from the middle class and it is the responsibility of the nation to protect these resources.
We have seen distribution of food products among the poor or lower income people at most of the districts and even at union levels. But we are sad to say that, these people are becoming dependent on relief distribution now-a-days as it is portrayed by lack of workers to cut ripe paddy from the fields this year. Many of them have received relief multiple times and yet come out on the streets everyday. There should be a combined approach to distribute relief based on their NID from set central locations. The individual contributors should be included in a centralized system. Ill-coordinated relief effort is not going to help much.
Our government should immediately introduce multiple ‘Food for Work’ programs. It will help to keep the people active as well as will to keep the economy rolling. This program can be introduced at the agricultural sector. Moreover, we can utilize this program for different communal works like; as we are approaching the ‘dengue’ season, this program can be introduced for cleanliness drive especially roads, canals, footpaths, drains etc. The focus should be to provide food in return of at least a nominal work maintaining social distancing.
Millions of people are unemployed in Bangladesh during this lockdown. The government can take a ‘Cooperative Agricultural Farm’ concept to bring these people under food safety as well as to provide them employment. In this program, at every union, there will be a cooperative agricultural farm under the management of the government but the owners will be the farmers and the workers. The government will take a part of the total production while the owners will receive their share of the production based on their contribution.
As the agricultural landowners usually lends their land to the farmers, there will be difficulty to lease land and a multipurpose agricultural farm can be created at every union. The products of these farms will reach different parts of the country under direct supervision of the government and if required the army will facilitate collection and distribution. There are many workers who have returned from different countries and now unemployed. They will also participate in this project as owners and workers. This initiative can bring multiple benefits for us within a short period.
Considering the current scenario, the government must take long-term policies and decisions. It is a must for extension of lockdown also. We are having extension of lockdown for 7-10 days despite the crisis getting more intense. The educational institutes should be declared closed till September, 2020 as was done in many countries and other offices and institutions should be declared closed till the end of Eid-ul-Fitr vacation straightaway. Then phase by phase, as per priority, everything should be opened.
Meanwhile, the government should be utmost strict about the ‘Stay Home’ concept and the administration must be very hard to ensure that people remain at home. Commodity shops and markets should be opened for small duration on 1 or 2 days of the week at a particular time at a particular area. The councilors should make this schedule for different parts of their area. For Medicine supply, area wise hotline for medicine delivery at home should be introduced so that people cannot get out of home for any sort of excuse.
Most importantly, the government, oppositions, the NGOs, the other social organizations, the business community, the financial and non-financial institutions and the people of Bangladesh should come forward and work together to handle this pandemic and minimize both the economic and non-economic losses.
Despite several shortcomings, we are fighting the COVID-19 adequately. But the lack of awareness and obedience to the rule among the people is really disheartening. We have become careless by nature as nothing concerns us until and unless something bad happens to our close one. Unfortunately, we have no sense of national, social or communal responsibility. This attitude will cost us a lot and blaming the government or administration or anyone else will not help much.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has proved herself to be a visionary leader on several instances and we can put our trust on her to overcome the crisis. We wish that our fellow countrymen will all stay at home to protect everyone and will show maximum respect to the government directions and instructions from the law enforcers and administration. Only then, we will be able to contain coronavirus in our country quickly and will be able to return to our normal life. We all should act and desire for that.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)