The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the government of Bangladesh on Wednesday signed a $100-million loan agreement to support the government’s efforts to address the immediate public health requirements for mitigating the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Economic Relations Division (ERD) secretary Fatima Yasmin and ADB country director Manmohan Parkash signed the loan agreements remotely on behalf of Bangladesh and ADB respectively.
ADB’s Board of Directors approved the assistance on 30 April 2020, according to an ADB media release.
The assistance under the COVID-19 Response Emergency Assistance Project will help strengthen Bangladesh’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak by providing urgently needed health equipment, medical supplies, diagnostic systems, and upgrading of the capacity of the health workforce.
The concessional assistance for the project will be sourced from ADB’s ordinary capital resources with an interest charge at the rate of 1 percent per annum; a term of 40 years, including a grace period of 10 years; repayment of principal at 2 percent per annum for the first 10 years after the grace period, and 4 percent per annum thereafter.
This project will support the immediate procurement of equipment and supplies for testing; upgrading medical infrastructure; and the development of system and community capacities for surveillance, prevention, and response to the pandemic in Bangladesh.
The project will equip 17 medical college hospitals with isolation and critical care units. Capacity and quality of at least 19 laboratories will be upgraded with COVID-19 microbiological diagnostic facilities.
At least 3,500 health sector workers, about 50 percent of whom are women, will be trained in modern skills and knowledge, and the recruitment of more health professionals and technical staff will be supported.
“As a trusted development partner, we are pleased to offer $100 million to bolster the Government’s efforts in managing this catastrophic pandemic, which challenges Bangladesh’s recent successes in socioeconomic development,” Country Director Manmohan Parkash said.
He said Bangladesh has taken decisive actions to manage the COVID-19 outbreak and this assistance will support the Government’s efforts in mitigating the health sector challenges in short and medium terms.
"I am confident the challenges will be met successfully through pragmatic policy decisions, and health sector capacity building and reforms,” Parkash added.
The press release said that ADB has a strong track record of responding rapidly to provide targeted support to Bangladesh in times of emergencies.
On 7 May, ADB approved $500 million to strengthen Bangladesh’s efforts to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As an immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ADB had released a $350,000 emergency grant for the procurement of medical supplies and equipment, and $1.3 million from an existing project to provide one-time cash support to 22,619 trainees to enable them to continue their ongoing skills training program.
On 13 April, ADB tripled the size of its initial response to COVID-19 to $20 billion and approved measures to streamline its operations for quicker and more flexible delivery of assistance to help its developing member countries counter the severe macroeconomic and health impacts caused by the pandemic. Visit ADB’s website to learn more about our ongoing response.
The passengers, who bought air tickets of Biman Bangladesh Airlines but could not travel due to the suspension of flight operation amid coronavirus situation, now can travel with the same tickets until March 14, 2021.
“The passengers can avail themselves of the opportunity without any charge,” Biman's Deputy General Manager (Public Relations) Tahera Khandaker told UNB on Wednesday.
She also said the passengers can get the money refunded if they do not travel with the already purchased tickets.
Bangladesh has sought a two-year duty-free access for its readymade garment products to the US market as the coronavirus pandemic put the major export-earning sector in trouble amid cancellations of global orders.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen made the request to the US government considering the current situation when he had a telephone conversation with US Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger on Tuesday evening.
Dr Momen also sought US support so that no export order from Bangladesh is cancelled.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) claimed that over US$ 3 billion orders have been cancelled over the last couple of months.
International brands and buyers' business practices have been "questioned" amid cancellation of orders putting vast RMG workers in immense trouble though owners invested a lot in post-Rana Plaza incident bringing massive reforms.
Bangladesh, the top garment exporter in the world after China, is heavily dependent on European and American orders.
Bangladesh government and industry leaders started raising the issue of cancellation of orders by the international brands and buyers at various levels amid coronavirus crisis.
The Adviser of US President Donald Trump highly appreciated Bangladesh's role in dealing with the current situation, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He assured Bangladesh of continuing US support to deal with the challenges of COVID-19.
Trump's Adviser also appreciated Bangladesh for accepting Rohingyas who floated at deep sea for weeks.
The Foreign Minister reminded that other countries in the region should also share the burden saying it is not the sole responsibility of Bangladesh to give them shelter.
He also urged other countries to take back over 1.1 million Rohingyas sharing responsibilities who have given shelter by Bangladesh.
The Foreign Minister sought strong role from the countries including the US in expediting the Rohingya repatriation initiative.
Trump's Adviser thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on behalf of the US President for her letter sent to Trump on the occasion of birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Dr Momen urged the US to provide a special allocation for Bangladesh to ensure food security in the country amid coronavirus crisis.
The Foreign Minister also raised the investment issue and sought increased US investment in Bangladesh saying the country offers a good investment environment.
He mentioned about 100 economic zones being prepared in various parts of the country.
The Foreign Minister also sought US investment in the ICT sector saying some 28 IT parks are being built in Bangladesh.
About a question on Digital Security Act, Dr Momen said the mass media in Bangladesh enjoys much freedom compared to any other country.
He, however, said legal action will be taken as per law against those who will mislead people through misinformation, hate speech and instigating bad campaign.
Dr Momen said the US can import medical products, including medicines, from Bangladesh in a larger quantity, and mentioned that Bangladesh is now producing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and masks.
Altogether 158 Bangladesh citizens, including the body of a deceased, are scheduled to return from Malaysia on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh, with the support of GD Assist, are arranging evacuation of the Bangladeshis who got stranded there amid suspension of international flights.
A chartered flight of a passenger carrier has been hired for bringing them back. It is scheduled to land at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at around 11:30am on Wednesday, said a handout of GD Assist.
It also revealed that there is a dead body coming along with the 157 Bangladeshis in the flight.
The Bangladeshis who are currently stranded in Malaysia contacted the High Commission of Bangladesh over time for making arrangements to send them back home. GD Assist, being the largest healthcare management company in Bangladesh, started to work towards bringing them back once commissioned by the High Commission of Bangladesh in Malaysia to do so.
GD Assist coordinated their efforts to get the necessary permission of different relevant authorities for making it happen.
Managing Director of GD Assist Syed Moinuddin Ahmed said the firm is proud to have been able to continue their efforts of bringing the stranded countrymen home and is especially thankful to the High Commission of Bangladesh in Malaysia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) for their prompt support and assistance in making the evacuation happen as early as possible.
“After getting necessary approval from authorities concerned, GD Assist further arranged for all the passengers to have COVID-19 screening tests at two renowned hospitals in Kuala Lumpur,” he added.
GD Assist, a venture of Green Delta Insurance Company Ltd, is the largest healthcare management company of Bangladesh working in medical tourism for Bangladeshis.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with assistance from Ekshop of a2i, launched Anondomela, an online marketplace, via videoconferencing, on Tuesday.
Anondomela will allow buyers and sellers to directly meet online and have Eid shopping can happen, while still respecting public health advisories and minimising the risk of infection transmission and at the same time help many small businesses who have worked around the year (pre-COVID) to produce Eid goodies do not lose out completely.
In a bid to ease the suffering of these entrepreneurs, UNDP launched Anondomela as a free-of-cost alternative marketplace.
It will allow buyers from the comfort of their homes order products directly from the SMEs.
Already, 1045 of SMEs have hosted their products on the site which can be accessed at www.anondomela.shop
“Our initiative aims to ease the pressure that the COVID-19 crisis has put on these very small and largely informal entrepreneurs, while also when most feel naturally inclined to demonstrate more social solidarity and care during the Holy Month,” said Sudipto Mukerjee, Resident Representative of UNDP Bangladesh, while giving the welcome remarks.
Bangladesh has close to seven million Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) which involve around 25 million people according to government statistics.
The COVID-19 crisis, which has brought the world to a screeching halt in just five months since its first reports, has put most of them at the risk of shutdown.
Launching the event virtually, Speaker Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said they are all aware that right now, the whole world is facing an unprecedented challenge posed by COVID-19.
She said the impact of the pandemic on SMEs, who do not have enough resources on their own to survive, is very harsh through this period of economic contraction. "I thank UNDP for supporting the GoB through this innovative initiative.”
As part of the stimulus package to revamp the economy, SMEs will get a Tk 20,000 crore stimulus package from the government to stay afloat, she added.
She hoped this will continue to grow beyond COVID crisis and help the branding of Bangladesh to the world.
Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator, addressing as the special guest, said Anondomela will give rural and urban small businesses an equal opportunity to sell their products digitally. "They’ll be able to carry out business as usual, and not have to lose out on Eid sales due to problems with the supply chain and transportation issues. This is the ‘new normal’ of work we need to adopt after this pandemic.”
The industry was traditionally propped up on the major sales that occur during festivals like the Pahela Baishakh or Eids. But the scenario is opposite this year. Due to the pandemic, even the products already at the factories are not reaching customers due to marketplace disruption.
“Normally, by April, we see a start in our Festival sales and melas. But with the COVID lockdown, we were hit very hard. We’ve already invested in making the products, got them ready, but now have no place to sell it,” said Asmaul Husna Munni, owner of Moon's Creation.
Earlier Rezwanul Haque Jami from a2i presented the online marketplace and Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor, a2i/UNDP moderated the question answer session and gave the vote of thanks.