I shall leave it to others to assess the loss to the nation, from the passing away of such a giant as National Professor Anisuzzaman. That in fact may be the most daunting task at hand, as we come to contemplate his unparalleled contribution in giving meaning, in shaping, and even, as only one as accomplished as him could, defining what it meant to be Bangladeshi. It is likely to beseech us for generations, for aeons, almost as long as the sheer weight of the man’s achievements made him hover over the nation’s conscience, for here was a man who in stature as well as behaviour, very clearly brooked no equal.
But that I shall leave that to others. What I instead find myself overwhelmed by on the occasion of his passing, is the gift he bore me throughout my 55 years of knowing him: some of the most beautiful memories that this life has had to offer. Of those days in my father’s apartment in the DU campus as the movement raged for independence, in the company of men like Anisuzzaman and Munier Chowdhury. The fatherly affection in which he held me through all the years and all the ways we travelled, that after my own father’s passing in 1992 worked to lessen the pain. It was only fitting that he had moved into our old apartment on Fuller Road after my father retired and moved out.
He remained a constant source of love and inspiration later when I taught at the Depart of Journalism and Mass Communication at DU, and it was the highest honour for me when he agreed to write the foreword for my book on Bangabandhu, the halo that seemed to separate him from the rest still undimmed, his preeminence still untouched, by what should have been five decades’ worth of wear and tear. When he attended dinners at my residence, I would still be in awe of him. And swim in his affection. We talked about a possible book on Tagore’s Natir Puja, to which he would contribute his unmatchable pen. Alas, it wasn’t to be…
All I am left with, are the many memories, the many moments, fleeting yet overpowering, as I remember his ever-smiling face. Today, it’s as if they carry the weight of an ocean. Even as he bore the nation’s conscience, it all rested so easily on his shoulders.
(Enayetullah Khan is the Editor-in-Chief of UNB and Dhaka Courier. This article was first published in Dhaka Courier)
Life or livelihood? That is the question facing millions and millions of people around the world today in an entirely unprecedented scenario for the modern, globalized world. But are the two truly mutually exclusive in the time of Covid 19? Or, can an accommodation be made to keep the search for livelihood as safe as possible from the point of view of health. Luckily, perhaps due to divine grace, Bangladesh has so far seen figures of infection and mortality which are far lower than might have been expected.
As economies across the globe continue to face the brunt of COVID 19, the question regarding when and how countries resume economic activities is generating much debate everywhere. With almost half of the world’s population currently in confinement or under reduced mobility, and economic activities at a virtual standstill, reopening is indeed a critical issue to ponder upon where the livelihood of millions is under threat. Responses by countries have had few things in common, but much divergence is also inevitable as reopening decisions are very much determined by the stage of the pandemic in each country. Given that the extent of the problem is asymmetrically distributed across regions and countries, the responses of governments vary significantly.
European countries such Italy, Spain, and Germany that have seen the curve flatten, with a lowering of the number of new cases and deaths, have embraced limited opening of businesses and activities for the general public. The United Kingdom (UK), on the other hand, continues to maintain lockdown out of an abundance of caution despite recent decreases in the number of new cases and deaths. To many, the British position appears to be appropriate. Hastening to a full re-opening of the economy before the curve has truly flattened or enough evidence regarding the spread and possible containment of the virus is established could lead to a resurgence in cases and spread with possibly devastating consequences. There are examples of countries such as Singapore which did well initially and remained without any lockdown, only to find cases soaring by 50 times within four weeks since mid March, requiring a late but strict lockdown.
There is little doubt that such wide-ranging restrictions are hard to bear, but both science and wisdom suggest that they not be lifted prematurely, at least not without a strategy which takes into account public health science and data, emergency management tools, and a structured, safe-guards based approach to any opening up of the economy.
The Bangladesh Context
Bangladesh, having been under a form of partial lockdown for over four weeks to save lives, is taking heavy economic losses of about Taka 33 billion a day to GDP, and with more than 10 million marginalized families missing out on the daily-waged income they rely on. Business membership organizations with considerable clout such as the ones representing the garments and textile sectors have successfully pursued the policy makers to allow re-opening of factories.
The Government, having been left with difficult choice of weighing lives against livelihoods, has finally decided to allow gradual opening, a decision which, according to many experts, may have come ahead of time or without adequate preparations.
Under the current arrangements, companies operating in pharmaceutical and export sectors have been allowed limited operation from 26 April, although they had had a similar dispensation from the beginning, following Covid related health and safety requirements. Partial banking services had been operating and have now been asked to expand further; and goods-transport have also been given a go-ahead.
However, since factories have opened up fully in several sectors without paying much attention to the “gradual” part of the decision, the ancillary economic activities such as food shops and accommodation in those areas have also opened up. Additionally, a limited opening for iftar has been permitted.
There are concerns though, that the limits will be observed more in being breached than followed. A large proportion of the general population, having complied with the lockdown orders, are somewhat unhappy at the current dispensation.
How Are Other Countries Responding
There is little doubt that countries, developing and industrial economies alike, cannot afford to remain under complete lockdown for an indefinite, and unknown period of time. Return to normalcy is not plausible until some sort of vaccine is found, and it makes sense to get back to restoration, gradually.
But one would have to also note that countries and regions with significant ongoing virus transmission should expect that restarting economic activity will only lead to more transmission. Hence, countries which have allowed some form of resumption of work and business operations, have done so following a systematic approach that builds on science, data, risk categorization of businesses, geography, and segment of population.
These economies have put in place clear, structured Lockdown Exit Strategies which provide the outline for gradual opening of the economy starting with essential and low-risk parts of the economic activities.
The Strategies are also flexible to allow for modifications in light of newly available information, and must be targeted for granular level localities.
Countries which have now laid out clear, timebound exit plans to withdraw gradually include nations which have been severely hit by the pandemic such as the USA, Spain, and Italy to the ones who have contained it really well such as Australia, New Zealand and the Czech Republic. India laid out a plan to start from April 20 the process of restoring livelihoods by permitting economic activity in key sectors, such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, packaging, exports, e-commerce, construction and self-contained industrial clusters. South Korea has shown that strong intervention and effective planning can keep the virus in check and help resumption of economic activity. Federal countries and unitary nations have different political and constitutional requirements which also need to be accommodated.
Building an Effective, Clear Exit Strategy
An intrinsic feature of the approach adopted by these countries is a structured, and phased exit plan which, most importantly, remains informed by science and data.
Evaluating a country’s readiness to restart activities will essentially depend on the health system’s level of strength combined with an assessment of the intensity of virus transmission. Thus, effective exit strategies build on
• An increased capacity to test
• Contact tracing lifted to a mass level to find and isolate all of the contacts of a known source of infection
• Dissemination/disclosure of adequate information regarding cases and mortalities on a regular basis
• Strengthened local response capabilities – essentially the ability to effectively lock down hotspots where outbreaks occur.
Reflecting upon best and safe practices identified so far from around the globe, it is critical that Bangladesh ensures holistic planning and solutions which are implemented towards control of the spread of the pandemic while the policy makers strive towards effective lifting of the lockdown. Planning and solutions must clearly outline :
1. Criteria: conditions based on health and medical data that sectors and localities should satisfy before initiating phased opening.
2. Preparedness : what the country and local administration should do to meet challenges in the coming days, including potential of resurgence of the virus.
3. Guidelines: Responsibilities of individuals and employers and relevant government agencies especially in the locality during all phases, and in each specific phase of the opening.
While it is understood that this is an unprecedented situation in modern times, where no country has managed to find a fool-proof method of either preventing, containing or curing the disease, key considerations Bangladesh must bear in mind while developing a Lockdown Exit Strategy includes i) geographical vulnerabilities managed at the local level, ii) timebound phasing based on the capacity of the central and local administration, iii) scenario planning with regard to the strength and other particular characteristics of each part of the society and economy, and iv) specific impact on the vulnerable parts of the society.
Finally, the strategy must be pragmatic and robust enough to respond to clear objectives such prioritizing the health and safety of all stakeholders, especially workers and others in vulnerable positions; ensuring healthcare management, putting in place the necessary governance measures for effective planning, implementation, and monitoring; generating livelihood, ensuring mobility, and, in a slightly longer term, enabling a robust recovery of economy .
All this can be done with the judicious use of expert advice, particularly in the spheres of public health management, medical service management, social behavioral science, and economics.
Effective coordination, an important but often missing feature in the way Bangladesh handles crises, will be critical to attain success, and can be significantly strengthened by putting in place an institutional coordination mechanism.
Such a platform, ideally headed by an empowered, competent, high-level policy-maker, will be key to bring the relevant stakeholders together for appropriate decision and regular monitoring.
There will have to be behavioral changes which will last beyond the immediate contagion, general health and safety protocols to be observed by all at home and in public places, and specifically designed protocols for different industries. These will have to be incorporated into daily behavior.
Let’s Wrestle The Enemy to Floor Before Taking Victory Laps
As Prime Minister Boris Johnson of UK said upon his return to work this week, ‘ do not let go as you begin to wrestle the enemy to floor’. Bangladesh must not let down the guard without an evidence-based assessment to determine the time to re-open its economy fully, and it must take a systematic, science and data driven phased approach before easing restrictions even more. Having avoided wide-spread outbreak in the initial few weeks through judicious policy decisions, we as a nation must avoid resurgence resulting from pre-mature opening which will lead to a collapse of the already struggling health system, and a second wave of lockdown which will have the potential to grievously harm the society in the long term. Restriction must be eased out in a manner that can help get maximum economic gain with minimum loss of lives through the pandemic, and at the appropriate time.
We believe, therefore, that life and livelihood are not an either/or choice. Both can be safeguarded through pragmatic yet cautious and courageous policies. We have the advantage yet of relatively low infection and mortality numbers, which we do not want to squander. Our policymakers may take advantage of the experiences of many of the countries which are several weeks ahead of us, set up committees of experts in public health management and economic recovery management, designing interventions and actions suited to our specific circumstances, thereby charting the shortest course to a viable and safe re-opening and recovery.
Jointly written by Asif Ibrahim, Chairman, Chittagong Stock Exchange; Nihad Kabir, Barrister, President MCCI, Dhaka; Abul Kasem Khan, Chairman, Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD); Syed Nasim Manzur, Leather Footwear and Good Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Dr. M. Masrur Reaz, Chairman, Policy Exchange
With current Covid-19 pandemic flaring up across 210 countries in the world, millions of poor people are already affected and more so in the developing world.
Covid-19 by now, is no longer about health but became a social issue particularly for the low-income people and people living in vulnerable life condition in the developing countries. In the context of Covid-19 pandemic, Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) may have increased risk for exposure, complications, and death because of a number of factors.
First, they are disproportionately represented among older populations and at increased risk of pandemic. More than 46% of the world’s population of 60-plus age have disabilities. Secondly, children and adults with disabilities may have underlying health conditions that increase their risk of serious complications from COVID-19. Thirdly, people with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the world’s people living in poverty.
Impacts of COVID-19 are likely to even worsen the situation of the people in lower socio-economic groups.
People with disabilities in the developing countries are most vulnerable due to spread of the invisible ‘killer’ called novel coronavirus. Disability (12 types) causes marginalization and deprivation of a human and hinders living a life in dignity. In Bangladesh, as per Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016, nearly 6.94% population of Bangladesh are PWDs. All these people face multiple layers of deprivation at this period particularly in job opportunity and secured income.
Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013 fortunately prompted a positive change in social attitude coupled with policy support. Consequently, skilled People with disabilities could secure jobs in Ready-Made Garments, Banking, Social Services, Small Business andother sectors. On the contrary, several studies conducted to assess the situation of employment of PWDs in Bangladesh and factors influencing them show that people with disabilities are at a greater disadvantage, experiencing significant difficulties at this time of COVID-19 pandemic. Quarantine, health facilities and transport established as part of the COVID-19 response may fail to cater to the requirements of children and adults living with disabilities.
People have already started experiencing fragile conditions. With lockdown all over the country and shrinking economic activities; fear of hunger and frustration among low-income people is boiling. While normal people are capable of having access into local philanthropy support, people with disabilities cannot readily access into those nor do they have the physical capability to compete for cash or kind support.
Media reports claim that RMG sector has lost supply order of apparels worth 3 billion US dollars. Brunt of this economic turmoil is inevitably going to push the low-income quintal of the labor force towards negative coping strategies e.g. going without food, selling household goods for purchasing foods and essentials. The wrath of the economic boil down however, would be extreme on the people with disabilities as they have no option but to depend on others for their survival.
Disability focused organizations including mainstream voluntary social organizations working to promote, protect and assist in upholding rights of the PWDs in Bangladesh have come together to join hands with the government for the prevention and protection of the people with disabilitiesfrom COVID-19. Some activities being undertaken by local and national organizations include health literacy and door to door counselling, foods and hygiene packets distribution, collaboration and coordination etc.
The Government of Bangladesh has taken all measures within its capacity to save the population from this pandemic. The National Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19 is a laudable guiding document. Feeding 5 million people with food support including support for PWDs is another pro-poor step. Economic stimulus package for the RMG workers will reduce suffering of the extreme and low-income people of the country.
However, there are areas where we can collectively contribute to fill in the gaps. Bangladesh Television broadcasts its news bulletins in sign language to reach out to the hearing impaired. All the private television channels should broadcast their news bulletins with sign language interpretation upholding the spirit of ‘leaving no one behind.’
Engagement of disability focused organisations in the preparedness and response plans (focusing the needs of different types of disabilities) including implementation process is necessary to fulfill the objectives of the National Preparedness and Response Plan for COVID-19.
Participation of the disability focused organisations and voluntary social organizations at the local level in designing and delivering of prevention and response plans and decision-making will ensure social equity. Women suffer the most in any disaster. Similarly, women with disabilities are likely to have been more vulnerable during this lockdown situation. Therefore, special attention needs to be given to protect and safeguard the women with disabilities at all levels.
Quota for cash or food support for people with disabilities is highly recommended as it will ensure rights and entitlements for them amongst those competing to have access into public or private resources. Door-step delivery should be ensured for free or at affordable rates.
Coordination and Cooperation between and among disability focused organisations and voluntary social organizations is desired to avoid any overlap or duplication of limited resources. Access to aid and devices for persons with disabilities during the lockdown should be made available. Support services, personal assistance, physical and communication accessibility must be ensured by public and private service providers for those persons with disabilities affected.
Provisions should be made for those people with disabilities who do not have disability certificates that they can avail uninterrupted government services. There should be separate rehabilitation and quarantine centers for people with disabilities. Trained and qualified health professionals should be engaged to deal with people with disabilities when quarantined.
And finally, we must keep in mind that people with disabilities in need of health services due to COVID-19 must not be deprioritized on the ground of their disability.
(The views and opinions expressed herein are of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of UNB. Amrita Rejina Rozario, is the Country Director of Sightsavers Bangladesh Country Office. She can be reached at email@example.com)
Only by coming together will the world be able to face down the COVID-19 pandemic and its shattering consequences. At an emergency virtual meeting last Thursday, G20 leaders took steps in the right direction. But we are still far away from having a coordinated, articulated global response that meets the unprecedented magnitude of what we are facing.
Far from flattening the curve of infection, we are still well behind it. The disease initially took 67 days to infect 100,000 people; soon, 100,000 people and more will be infected daily. Without concerted and courageous action, the number of new cases will almost certainly escalate into the millions, pushing health systems to the breaking point, economies into a nosedive and people into despair, with the poorest hit hardest.
We must prepare for the worst and do everything to avoid it. Here is a three-point call to action -- based on science, solidarity and smart policies -- for doing just that.
First, suppress transmission of the coronavirus.
That requires aggressive and early testing and contact tracing, complemented by quarantines, treatment, and measures to keep first responders safe, combined with measures to restrict movement and contact. Such steps, despite the disruptions they cause, must be sustained until therapies and a vaccine emerge.
Crucially, this robust and cooperative effort should be guided by the World Health Organization, a member of the United Nations family; countries acting on their own – as they must for their people – will not get the job done for all.
Second, tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis.
The virus is spreading like wildfire, and is likely to move swiftly into the Global South, where health systems face constraints, people are more vulnerable, and millions live in densely populated slums or crowded settlements for refugees and internally displaced persons. Fuelled by such conditions, the virus could devastate the developing world and then re-emerge where it was previously suppressed. In our interconnected world, we are only as strong as the weakest health systems.
Clearly, we must fight the virus for all of humanity, with a focus on people, especially the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups.
The United Nations has just issued reports documenting how the viral contagion has become an economic contagion, and setting out the financing needed to address the shocks. The International Monetary Fund has declared that we have entered a recession as bad as or worse than in 2009.
We need a comprehensive multilateral response amounting to a double-digit percentage of global Gross Domestic Product.
Developed countries can do it by themselves, and some are indeed doing it. But we must massively increase the resources available to the developing world by expanding the capacity of the IMF, namely through the issuance of special drawing rights, and of the other international financial institutions so that they can rapidly inject resources into the countries that need them. I know this is difficult as nations find themselves increasing domestic spending by record amounts. But that spending will be in vain if we don’t control the virus.
Coordinated swaps among central banks can also bring liquidity to emerging economies. Debt alleviation must also be a priority – including immediate waivers on interest payments for 2020.
Third, recover better.
We simply cannot return to where we were before COVID-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis. The pandemic has reminded us, in the starkest way possible, of the price we pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protections and public services. It has underscored and exacerbated inequalities, above all gender inequity, laying bare the way in which the formal economy has been sustained on the back of invisible and unpaid care labour. It has highlighted ongoing human rights challenges, including stigma and violence against women.
Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and other global challenges. The recovery must lead to a different economy. Our roadmap remains the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.
The United Nations system is fully mobilized: supporting country responses, placing our supply chains at the world’s disposal, and advocating for a global cease-fire.
Ending the pandemic everywhere is both a moral imperative and a matter of enlightened self-interest. At this unusual moment, we cannot resort to the usual tools. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. We face a colossal test which demands decisive, coordinated and innovative action from all, for all.
(António Guterres is Secretary-General of the United Nations)
Thousands of Bangladeshis living in London have been passing days amid deep uncertainty due to the current situation caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.
The crisis also triggered panic buying of essentials and their abnormal price hike by some unscrupulous traders of the Bangladesh community, said Yunus Ali Sheikh, a Bangladeshi-origin British citizen, while narrating the condition of Bangladeshis in London amid the global coronavirus outbreak.
Yunus, also a former UNB journalist, said the main concern is now personal safety and the possibility of being unemployed as there are huge Bangladeshis in the UK who are doing contractual jobs, and they are going to be the worst sufferers.
“They won’t get money if there’s no work. And if there’s no money, they won’t get food. This is the main concern among the people who work on contractual basis,” Yunus observed.
“But”, he said, “There’re social safety net facilities…unemployed and small-income group get state benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance, income tax credit etc. But these benefits are meant for only British citizens and there’re huge Bangladeshi origin migrated people who are not citizens yet. They work mainly in restaurants, fried chicken shops, and are in zero-hour contracts.”
Besides, Yunus said, the people of the Bangladesh community, who account for about 451,529, have stockpiled essential commodities from different stores being panicked of a possible lockdown.
“I came to know one Bangladeshi man has procured 42 sacks of rice weighing 20 kg each! Taking advantage of the situation, some Bangladeshi shop owners have hiked the prices of commodities. Earlier, the price of 20kg rice was 25 pounds which has been increased to 35-40 pounds abruptly.”
Besides, the price of a chicken has been raised to 20 pounds from 3.5 pounds.
“This tendency is mostly seen among Bangali shop owners,” said Yunus adding that making money in all situations is their common tendency.
But the scenario is different in the stores owned by the British, he said mentioning that they are offering various facilities to buyers so that the people of all ages can buy products at their convenient time.
Talking about religious gatherings, he said there was no Jum’a prayer in mosques in London as part of safety measures.
Asked whether the Bangladeshi High Commission there contacted them amid the crisis, he said there was an invitation from the embassy on the occasion of Mujib Year. However, later the programme was postponed.
On March 23, the British government restricted the movement of people to curb the spread of coronavirus as fears grew that people were not sufficiently respecting guidance on social distancing.
According to worldometer, the UK has so far reported 11,658 coronavirus cases and 578deaths linked to the virus.