Though it appears that the number of corona cases has marked a fall over last two weeks, health experts said the positive case rate is actually now higher than in the past as the transmission is gradually growing for lack of effective preventive measures.
They also said the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has taken a ‘suicidal’ decision of reducing the number of daily corona tests in the country at a time when the infection rate is rising alarmingly.
According to them, many infected people are now out of detection and they are turning ‘super spreaders’ of the virus. And for this, they said, the country will enter a long transmission cycle, wreaking havoc on human health, society, economy and every sector.
However, DGHS authorities attributed the decline in the number of tests to change in the definition of recovery, discarding the follow-up or second tests, inclement weather or flooding in different areas, the imposition of test fees and people’s lesser concern over the virus infection.
The health experts said people’s confidence in the corona testing systems has eroded due to test scams by JKG and Regent Hospital, a complicated system for registration of test and delay in report delivery.
According to the DGHS, 3,533 confirmed coronavirus cases were detected during the past 24 hours as of Wednesday, increasing the total cases to 193,590.
It said 14,002 samples were tested in 79 labs across the country during the period and the infection rate is 25.23 percent while the infection rate is 19.75 percent against the tests carried out up to now. This has so far been the highest single-day positivity rate. The previous highest rate of 24.95 was also recorded two days back on Monday, manifesting the high transmission of the virus.
Contacted, Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the DGHS, said it is still not clear whether the virus infection has decreased or increased. “The current data shows the transmission has increased and the rate is gradually growing. “But this is also true that people are not undergoing unnecessary tests now. Only suspected people are coming for tests. So, it’s usual that the infection rate will be higher than the previous time.”
She said now they have the capacity to conduct over 20,000 tests every day, but people are showing little interest in giving their samples and it indicates that the virus may show a falling trend.
“Now we don’t conduct follow-up tests as the definition of recovery has changed. People in flood-hit areas also can’t properly undergo tests. It also seems people’s worry about the virus has decreased a lot. Earlier, the sample test was scheduled from 11am to 3pm. Even after 3pm, many people were seen standing in queues. But now no one is found after 1pm. So, the sample test has declined,” Nasima said.
But according to DGHS website data, around 23 lakh corona suspects have called the hotline numbers of the directorate expressing interest in the test over the last 13 days. Of them, only around 1.90 lakh people had been able to undergo tests.
A virologist at Dhaka Medical College said the testing system has been made harder discouraging people to avoid tests. “One has to register in advance for the online sample testing. Once the prescribed number is met, there is no chance of registration.”
Talking to UNB, Prof Nazrul Islam, former Vice Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), said coronavirus transmission is still on the rise but the tests declined sharply over the last two weeks.
He said though a smaller number of samples have been tested, over 24 percent infection rate has been recorded for the few days. “It indicates the virus is still showing an uptrend.”
He voiced concern that the fall in the number of tests is only contributing to the spread of the virus since many infected people are remaining undetected, and they are freely moving everywhere.
Prof Nazrul Islam, also a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC), said the current daily poor testing rate does not represent the real corona situation in the country.
“It’s our bad luck that the fee on corona tests was imposed on July 2, and the number of tests started dropping from July 3. But there’s no alternative to increasing the number of tests and identifying the infected people to contain the virus transmission,” he observed.
Prof Nazrul said the country should conduct at least 25,000 sample tests every day to know about the genuine corona situation, and now it has that capacity as the number of laboratories has increased substantially.
The noted virologist said it is fact that people are also showing lower interest in undergoing the Covid test these days due to the imposition of a fee, providing false test reports, hassles in providing samples and delay in having test results. “People are losing confidence in the testing system due to JKG and Regent Hospital’s scams. People aren’t only less serious about the test, but also about wearing masks, social distancing and health hygiene rules. It’s a dangerous sign.”
Contacted, Prof Be-Nazir Ahmed, former director (disease control) of the DGHS, said, “The corona infection rate is still increasing in our neighbouring country, India, which was hit by the virus well before us. What we’ve done more than them that the virus would decline in our country! The main thing is that the test has declined at a time when the infection has increased.”
When Wari went under lockdown, he said, 50 percent people of the area who underwent tests found positive for the virus. “These are hidden patients. If we can’t trace the hidden patients, the infection will gradually rise. If we want to control the situation, we must scale up tracing, testing, isolation and quarantine across the country. Or else, it’ll enter a long transmission cycle, wreaking havoc on human health, society, economy and every sector.”
Prof Be-Nazir said the DGHS is either trying to hide the real scenarios or they do not have the capability and enough data about the corona transmission.
Students of Singpur Government Primary School in Mirpur upazila of Kushtia are deprived of sports and recreation facilities as the only playground of the school remains waterlogged for the better part of the school year.
During monsoon, the playground of the school turns into a waterbody as every corner of the ground is full to the brim. Anyone who visits the school for the first time in the rainy season can easily mistake it for a pond.
The field goes under water even in light rain, forcing the school children to refrain from playing and other recreation facilities.
The teachers and students also have to make it to the school building by crossing the stagnant water.
The students of the school as well as young people in the area who use it when school is out are getting frustrated at not being able to access the field.
In fact, all the school grounds in the union have the same picture.
Local people have claimed that every year, a minimum amount of money has been allocated for the development of the school playground but to no avail.
In the fiscal year 2019-20, Tk 43,000 was allocated for the development of the playground of the school but the reality is what people have seen for the last several years.
They also demanded immediate steps to develop the school playground for the interest of the young people. The more sports are practiced, the more they will stay away from distractions like drugs, they said.
Sufiya Khatun, Headmaster of Singpur Government Primary School, said “Tk 43,000 has been allocated for the filling of soil at the school ground in 2019-20 fiscal years, but it did not work though few sand-laden trolleys have been seen for covering the field.”
Masud Rana, Primary Education officer of Mirpur upazila, said “I have heard the matter and the headmaster of the school has been asked to inform me in a written statement.”
Abdul Khalek, Chairman of School Managing Committee, said “In every rainy season, the playground of the school went under water. Already, the authorities concerned have taken steps to cover the field which was not enough. However, it needs to be filled well.”
Mahabubur Rahman Mamun, Dhuboil Union Chairman, said steps will be taken to remove water from the school field.
Linkon Biswas, Upazila Nirbahi Officer, said “I have no idea about it but necessary steps will be taken to remove water from the school playground.”
Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has dashed hopes of achieving the UN’s 2030 agenda to eradicate poverty through Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
COVID-19 has hit Bangladesh’s economy hard and threatens to derail the country’s impressive achievements in poverty reduction.
Economists say it’s not possible to achieve the index of SDGs by 2030 amid the slow economic activities in the wake of the pandemic which has left millions without jobs.
They called upon NGOs and the rich to come forward alongside the government to stand by the poor to help them cope with the rough situation.
Millions of new poor
South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM) says Bangladesh's poverty rate may rise to 40.9 percent due to COVID-19. In addition to 34 million existing poor, according to government figures, in case of uplifting the poverty line income by 1.25 times, there are another 36 million people who are ‘non-poor’ but can be categorised as vulnerable.
Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA) said nearly 36 million people have lost jobs between March 26 and May 30 during the general holidays. Around 61 million people are currently working in the country’s job market. Nearly 59.5 million people moved into different class structures during this period, of which 25.5 million people became extremely poor, it said.
According to the latest survey of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Bangladesh will have 16.4 million new poor in 2020 as the income of working-class in urban and rural areas has fallen sharply.
About 13 percent of people have become unemployed due to the pandemic. Under a post-lockdown optimistic scenario, the country’s overall poverty will increase by 25.13 percent, where rural poverty will be 24.23 percent and urban poverty will be 27.52 percent, it said.
BIDS Research Director Binayak Sen said they ran several scenarios - representing successive severity of lockdown - under the “wealth plus labour status” approach. In a scenario where there is an 80 percent drop in income for the labour class in urban areas and 10 percent drop in income for the labour class in rural areas in the ‘hard lockdown’ exercise, there would have 16.4 million new poor.
“If we consider a 25 percent higher poverty line, then an additional 16 to 20 percent of the population would be in poverty in rural and urban areas. If we update our age-old poverty line accordingly, it will result in a much higher poverty where rural poverty would be 45 percent, and urban poverty would be 36 percent,” he added.
The economist said, “We have two kinds of vulnerability in poverty - one relates to the risk of slippages of the near-poor into poverty, and the other pertains to the risk of slippages of the moderate poor into extreme poverty.”
Extreme poverty rate rising
According to a recent UN report, COVID-19 has pushed more than 250 million people to the brink of starvation and dashed hopes of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. The pandemic has ended hopes of poverty eradication by 2030.
COVID-19 will push 176 million more people into extreme poverty, compounding long-standing neglect of low-income people, including women, migrant workers and refugees.
Executive Director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI) Dr Ahsan H Mansur said the poverty rate went up vastly in the country as millions lost jobs.
“The extreme poverty rate doubled from the existing 10.5 percent while the poverty rate went up 30 to 35 percent from the 20.5 percent as millions of people in the country lost jobs amid the COVID-19 fallout,” he said.
Dr Mansur said the government must take necessary steps to tackle the situation. Otherwise, it won’t be possible to overcome the situation in the next two years.
Executive Director of SANEM Dr Selim Raihan suggested undertaking some ‘politically feasible’ policy reforms in the areas of trade, tax, banking sectors; explore ways for generating resources (domestic and external) to support the fiscal stimulus and ease monetary policy measures; suspend LDC graduation target by at least three more years; raise voice at the global level to push the SDG target year from 2030 to 2035.
According to the announcement of the UN, the decline of global extreme poverty continues, but it has slowed. The deceleration indicates that the world is not on track to achieve the target of less than 3 percent of the world living in extreme poverty by 2030.
‘Implementing SDG indexes tough’
Talking to UNB, Dr Shamsul Alam, senior secretary and member of the General Economics Division (GED) of the Bangladesh Planning Commission, said several crore poor people can’t work following the Coronavirus fallout. “So, obviously, an impact fell in poverty rate temporarily,” he said.
Citing 2015 data, he said, 25 percent of the five crores poor are at risk all-time in Bangladesh because of climate change and other reasons.
“Now it must further increase in the situation. The number of poor people maybe 6 or 6.5 crore and the percent will be more than 30,” he added.
Dr Shamsul Alam said it’ll be very tough to implement SDGs indexes by 2030 due to the impact of COVID-19.
“Bangladesh is committed to bringing its poverty rate under ‘zero’ level and that means 3 percent to achieve SDGs by 2030. But it’ll be very tough now to implement due to the impact of Coronavirus,” he said.
The Ekushey Padak-2020 recipient urged the NGOs and rich people to come forward to help people affected by the pandemic.
“The government can’t tackle the existing impact of Coronavirus alone. So, NGOs and rich people have to come forward to help the affected the people to overcome the situation,” he told UNB.
Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Ltd is going to install some 120,000 more prepaid gas metres in the city with the unspent fund of JICA, a Japanese donor agency.
According to official sources, a revised development project profile (RDPP) was sent by the Titas Gas to the Planning Commission through Energy and Mineral Resources Division.
“Once we receive the approval to the RDPP from the executive committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), we’ll proceed to install the metres in seven more areas in Dhaka city under an existing project,” said Faizur Rahman, project director of the prepaid metering project of the Titas Gas.
Under an existing project, he said, 200,000 prepaid gas metres have so far been installed in 26 areas of the city.
“The same Japanese contractor will do the job under a variation order,” Faizur Rahman told UNB.
He said installation of these new meters will start within this year and complete by June 2022.
Official sources said the areas, where the new prepaid metres are to be installed for household consumers include Paltan, Ramna, New Market, Khilgaon and Segunbagicha which are mainly located in the central part of the city under the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC).
Under the existing project, prepaid metres have been installed in 26 areas mainly under Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), including Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, Bashundhara, Badda, Tejgaon, Cantonment, Kafrul, Khilkhet, Uttara, and Mirpur.
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Many consumers of these areas said they are getting benefit of the prepaid gas metres as they now pay less than one-third of the amount which they paid under non-metering system monthly.
As per official data received from Titas Gas, the company has about 2.783 million consumers in its command area and 2.764 million of which are household consumers.
Titas Gas authorities took up the prepaid gas meringue project mainly to check gas pilferage as there are widespread allegations that huge illegal gas connections have been given across the city.
“Even, some illegal consumers pilfer gas through manifold ways. They use one connection to use gas in so many unapproved ovens,” said a top Titas official adding that prepaid metres will check this problem.
Titas Gas started installing the prepaid gas metres in some areas of Dhaka in September 2017 under a JICA-funded project. The project was supposed to be completed by December 2018 but the installation was completed recently.
Officials said existing Japanese contractor Toyokeiki Co Ltd, which supplied and installed the previous 200,000 metres, will get the job of the additional 120,000 metres under the same terms and conditions, and prices.
Titas Gas officials said JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), which funded Tk 752 crore for the existing project has mobilised fund from the unspent money from its four ongoing projects in the country’s energy sector.
The National Board of Revenue (NBR) is going to introduce e-Payment system for Value Added Tax (VAT) from July 16, aiming to reduce the hassles in payment by VAT payers.
Official sources said NBR Chairman Abu Hena Md Rahmatul Muneem will open the VAT e-payment system.
According to the existing law, eligible VAT payers have to submit their VAT returns every month along with the VAT payment for their previous month.
As per the official information, the NBR has formulated the e-Payment module under the VAT online project and has tested this at the consumer level through three local and foreign banks --Prime Bank, Midland Bank and HSBC.
No problem was found for paying VAT through using this system. Now all commercial banks will be brought under this system.
After the payment of VAT under the system, the copy of that Chalan will be sent to Bangladesh, CGA and respective VAT office automatically. One copy will also be sent to the organisation that submitted it.
NBR officials said transparency will come with this process as it plug the scopes of VAT evasion.
By using this system the enlisted person will be able to quickly pay his/her VAT and supplementary duty directly from his or her bank account easily, without risk to the national exchequer.
NBR officials said there will be no hassle for the taxpayers in this system.
Currently, 100 top VAT payers, who pay 30 percent of the total VAT, will be able to avail of the opportunity. Later, all other business entities will be brought under this system.
With the assistance from the World Bank, the NBR is implementing the VAT Online Project which was taken to implement the new VAT Law.
In September last, the NBR started taking the VAT return through online, but there was a scope to submit the VAT payment through online.
An NBR senior official said this system will encourage business entities to pay their VAT timely and accurately.
"Some of our VAT payers often show reluctance about paying accurate VAT blaming hassles and others problems in the VAT offices. These people will get hassle-free a quick process for paying their VAT," he said.
To improve the tax-GDP ratio in the country, which is the lowest among the South Asian countries, the VAT collection has to be increased, he added.
The total revenue collection for the 2020-21 fiscal was estimated at Tk 378,000 crore where the NBR will contribute Tk 3,30,000 crore. The revenue from non-NBR sources was estimated at Tk 15,000 crore, while non-tax revenue at Tk. 33,000 crore.
Of the grand amount for the NBR, Tk 103,945 crore will come from income, profit and capital tax, while Tk 125,162 crore will be contributed by VAT, supplementary duty will provide Tk 57,815 crore, Tk 37,807 crore will come from import duty, Tk 55 crore from export duty, Tk 3,686 crore from the excise duty and Tk 1,530 crore as other taxes.
For effective enforcement of Value Added Tax and Supplementary Duty Act 2012, the government has automated VAT registration process and Return submission activities under the VAT Online Project.
As per the available data, some 170,000 people have already got VAT registration using the online platform. Besides, taxpayers are submitting returns through the online system which is getting popular every day. Almost 35,000 taxpayers submit return through online system regularly.
"Digitised VAT management system developed by the VAT Online Project will reduce the cost of doing business remarkably, and bring dynamism, transparency, and accountability in the VAT administration," Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said in his budget speech on June 11.