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Coronavirus : Crisis deepening in Bangladesh

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As Bangladesh entered 13 th day of a three-week shutdown and Coronavirus cases
are reported more frequent than before, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has
asked the law enforcers and the administration to be more strict to apply the social
distancing and self-quarantine rules fearing larger impact of the disease across the country.
A country of 160 million, Bangladesh has started facing the wrath of the deadly virus in first
week of March,even though the rate of infection was initially slow. However the scenario
began to be aggravated.
Till April 7,the country confirmed 41 new cases, taking the tally of positive tests to 164. The
death toll rose to 17 after five more people died in the last 24 hours, recording the highest
number of deaths in a day so far, said Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, director, Institute of
Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) at a briefing .
Two of the new deaths are from Dhaka while the rest are from other districts. Of the infected,
20 are from Dhaka city, 15 from Narayanganj, One from Keraniganj, one from Comilla and
another from Chittagong.

Since March 8, when the first case was reported, the authorities have tested more than four
thousand people, as expatriate Bangladeshis returned to the country in thousands.
"The virus is no longer limited to one place. It is spreading gradually," said Prof Abul Kalam
Azad, Director General of the Health Services.

As panic gripped, Dhaka and almost all major towns across the country have taken deserted
look. More alarming, the health officials found the evidence of cluster transmission in several
places in Dhaka’s Mirpur and Bashabo areas . The other clusters are in Narayanganj, Gaibandha
and Madaripur. All those localities have been placed under complete lockdown.
Experts say unless the government draws up a cluster containment strategy immediately,
situation may go worrisome.

Relax Shutdown

As the government extended the national shutdown from March 26 to April 14, media have
pointed out lax enforcement of the closure, which might raise questions about the its
effectiveness. Media and law enforcers said many people are still roaming on streets, both in
the cities and urban areas, ignoring the advice to stay indoors. Besides, a large number of
people from the low income groups have to go out to earn their living to survive.
The situation in villages seemed even worse . Mobile courts led by executive magistrates are
fining people for violating social isolation and coming out on the streets instead of staying
home. However, the noncompliance of the rules have increased the risk of further transmission
of the disease .

Bangladesh is now passing through a very crucial phase in the fight against the deadly virus.
Prof Muzaherul Huq, a former regional official of the World Health Organization, said the
shutdown must be extended, and it must be enforced effectively.
The government, on March 23, announced closure of all public and private offices till April 4,
to contain the spread of the virus. Hospitals, kitchen markets, drug stores, media outlets and
emergency services remained outside its purview. Later it suspend all public transport
services, inching closer to enforcing a lockdown. The shutdown has now been extended to April
14.

Suicidal step
Bangladesh’s labour intensive readymade garment sector, which brings nearly 80 per cent of
the national revenue, the experts say, may be at risk. The cause of worry was due to an
abrupt decision by owners to open their factories on March 5, ignoring the national shutdown.
The unwise decision has forced hundreds of thousands of low paid factory workers rushing to
Dhaka, mostly by foot in the absence of transports.
A scathing national criticism transmitted by social media has forced the RMG sector owners
to reverse their decision, but many fear, the damage has been done.
Reports say, dozens of garment factories still remained open in Savar and Ashulia, ignoring
safety of the workers. These factories are working defying the declared general holiday, and
the decision of their apex body, BGMEA — Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters
Association to keep factories closed till April 14.
The country, second largest exporter of RMG products after China, employs more than four
million people in the sector, mostly women.
Health experts say, workers work in close proximity to each other in the factories, exposing
them to infectious diseases like coronavirus. Therefore, such decision may appear to be
suicidal, say the expert. The workers say they joined work as the factory owners told them
they have urgent export orders to meet .
There is another worry : what would happen if the virus spread in the densely populated
Rohingya refugee camps in Co’x bazaar ?

Significant step

After days of concern following orthodox clerics opinion to keep open mosques for community
prayers, the government has finally put restrictions to peoples going to mosques, saying no
one, except those employed by mosques, will be allowed to offer daily or Juma prayers at
mosques across the country.

FILE – In this April 19, 2018 file photo, trainees work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. A survey of factory owners in Bangladesh has found that major fashion retailers that are closing shops and laying off workers in Europe and the U.S. also are canceling their sometimes already completed orders, as workers often go unpaid. A report released Friday, March 27, 2020, by Mark Anner, director of the Center of Global Rights, found the coronavirus crisis has resulted in millions of factory workers being sent home without the wages or severance they are owed. About 4.1 million people work in apparel factories in Bangladesh, the world’s No. 2 garment exporter after China. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, File)

Taken to contain the spread of deadly virus, a circular of the religious affirms ministry on April
6, warned anyone . The instruction was issued in light of the main principle of all religions and
in the interest of protecting national security. The ministry, however, said in a bid to continue

Jamaat in mosques, a maximum of five mosque staff, including Imam, Muajjin, Khadem and
Khatib, will be able to offer daily prayers.

In case of the Juma prayers, the number will not be more than 10.
The government has also said no religious gatherings like waj mahfil, milad, tafsir mahfil and
tabligh gathering will be allowed.

Remarkably, while Saudi Arabia and other Muslims countries have stopped such gatherings in
the Holy Makkah and Madina, Bangladesh clerics defied . Positive cases have already reported
from among the Tablig Jamat men. The government urged Muslims to offer namaj on Shab-e-
Barat  next Friday at their respective houses, instead of mosques.

Huge bailout plan

Fearing an alarm bell for economy including unemployment’s, the government has come
forward with a huge stimulus package to heal the possible financial scars caused by global
pandemic.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unveiled package allocating Taka 67,750 crore newly, raising
the amount to Taka 72, 750 crore. She earlier allocated Taka 5,000 crore to support the
export-oriented sectors.

Fresh programs, to be implemented in phases as immediate, short and long terms, has also
been taken. ''The first package amounting to Taka 30,000 crore will go to the affected industries
and service sector organizations as working capital. Commercial banks will offer the money as
loans from their own funds on the basis of bank-client relations on 9 percent interest, said the
prime minister.

The second package amounting to Taka 20,000 crore will go to small and medium enterprises
including cottage industries as working capital. The borrowers will have to pay 4 percent
interest of the loan while the rest will come from the government as subsidy.
The third package is meant for hiking Bangladesh Bank's Export Development Fund to $5 billion
from $3.5 billion in order to promote raw materials import under back-to-back LC. The fourth
package amounting to Taka 5,000 crore for pre-shipment credit refinance on 7 percent interest
will be introduced by the Bangladesh Bank.

Earlier on March 25, the Prime Minister announced the first bailout package for the export-
oriented sectors, especially for readymade garment (RMG) sector, on 2 percent interest.
The prime minister said, Low-interest credit facilities would be introduced to boost the
economic activities keeping the job of the workers and employees as well as the
competitiveness of the entrepreneurs intact. The coverage of social safety net will be widened
to ensure the basic needs of people living below the poverty line, daily wage earners and
people engaged in non-formal works, announced Hasina.

Social safety net includes distributing food materials free of cost, selling rice at Taka 10 per kg,
distributing cash among targeted people, enhancing the coverage of old-age allowance, widow
allowance and allowance for the women oppressed by husbands in 100 most poverty-prone
Upazilas.
Unprecedented Danger
The pandemic has started devouring the mandkind — men and women, children and elderly,
all races, all religions irrespective of their ideological and political denominations. It has struck
the humanity, like a tsunami.
The global outbreak of the disease has already forced Bangladesh to drastically scale down
or almost cancel many of the grand festivities planned to celebrate country’s founding father
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s birth centenary. The celebrations of the
Independence Day on March 26 were also cancelled .
As per recent UNCTAD Report, a 2% fall in imports of Chinese intermediate inputs can cost  $16
million to Bangladesh. In addition to the negative impact on various segments of
economy, some infrastructure projects that involves Chinese construction companies may face
uncertainties.
After cutting air connectivity with 10 countries, Bangladesh barred foreigners through its 11
land ports . Besides, the army were given task to assist the local administration in ensuring
social distancing and implementing other precautionary measures.
It seems the government is confident to face the challenge. But there is still reasons to be
worried : hospitals are lacking capacity to test and treat patients infected with the disease,
lack of the required amount of test kits and ventilators, many doctors and medical staff have
reportedly not been provided with enough personal protective equipment (PPE), and self-
isolation or home-quarantine measures have not been found to be fully effective due to lack of
awareness .

( HAROON HABIB was chief editor and managing director of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha , the country’s premier news agency. He was also Bangladesh correspondent of The Hindu and Deutsche Welle radio . As a novelist, Habib won the Bangla Academy Literary Award‘ for 2013 and the ‘Katha Sahitya Kendra Award’. Habib fought as a student guerrilla fighter in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War and is general secretary of an organisation of the Liberation War veterans , Sectors Commanders Forum )

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