The Coronavirus related disease first started in the city of Wuhan located in central China at the end of the last year and has since caused a large scale pandemic spreading to different countries around the globe. Currently, it seems that the ferocity of the virus infection has gone out of proportion. It caught many especially the developed countries by surprise. Italy is now struggling to contain the virus. By now, it has already witnessed more deaths than those occurred in China. The other country badly in the grip of the virus pandemic is Iran. It has been reported that every day the number of persons with the virus infection is increasing in number that is also taking toll of lives of many more human beings. The virus has extended its deadly tentacles to other European countries that include Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and England to name the prominent ones. It has also travelled to the other sides of the Atlantic, Indian as well as the Pacific oceans.The United States of America and Canada are feeling the heat and onslaught of the Coronavirus. Australia and NewZeland have also fallen victims to the aggression of the virus. The South Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka are likely to experience the all-out onslaught of the virus in the coming days. Other countries would also face the similar situation any time from now. The UN Secretary General already has expressed his grave apprehension that millions could suffer due to the virus in many especially developing countries where medical facilities are limited consequently would not be able to cope up with the demands of the pandemic situation. However, following the Chinese strategy of containing the virus many of the affected countries mentioned have either partially or fully locked out the counties or some parts of them. All forms of connectivity are either suspended or completely snapped. Many of them also declared state of emergencies to combat the pandemic on war footings.
In Bangladesh, in the last few days, there have been reports of Coronavirus infections in the country. Every day the numbers are increasing. There have been reports of 2 deaths due to the virus infection. It appears that the incidences of infections have increased. Meanwhile, many of the Bangladeshi expatriates living especially in the European countries where there has been large number of cases of Coronavirus infections have come home. It seems that the home quarantines that were suggested to them by the health authorities upon arrival are not working well. It has also been reported in the media that many of the returnees are also not following the conditions or requirements of the quarantine. It has prompted the government to take appropriate measures with the help of administrative machineries to fully enforce the conditions of home quarantine. In addition, the government either has established or in the process of establishing more state run quarantine centers especially in Dhaka so that returnees could be placed under quarantine immediately for the specified number of days. In addition to these medical facilities in hospitals are being increased. The protective measures and gears for the physicians and other medical service providers are also in the process of being procured from foreign sources. Meanwhile, Shibchar under the Madaripur District have been placed under lock down. Bus transport services from Dhaka to Rajshahi have been stopped to contain further spread of the virus in the northern districts of the country. Currently, air connectivity with other countries has been reduced to the bare minimum.The situation looks extremely grim and discouraging for the whole world including Bangladesh. There is no reference or record in history of such kind of pandemic of such global scale caused by viruses. In the past, mankind has been able to defeat these types of health related menaces with great costs and efforts. On the optimistic note based on the historical experiences it could be said that the coronavirus threat will eventually fade away, as the Ebola, Zika, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) viruses have in recent years. Many more years back, mankind has also been able to come out of the epidemic and pandemic of Plague, Spanish Flu and many more of such types of diseases caused by viruses and bacteria. Here it may be mentioned that the Spanish flu pandemic lasted for about 2 years, from January 1918 to December 1920. It infected 500 million people—about a quarter of the world's population at the time. ‘The death toll was to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million’, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history.
However, in the economic front the damage has already been done. Now, we need to wait to see how far it takes us down in economic terms. ‘It has implications not just for China but for the entire world’. Large-scale quarantines, travel restrictions, and social-distancing measures will take their tolls on the economy. According to UNCTAD, the economic uncertainty would likely cost the global economy $1 trillion in 2020. The implications for Bangladesh economy will be manifolds. The important pillars of our economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings include export of readymade garments and human resources to different countries. The foreign exchange earnings amount to USD 34 billion and over USD 16 billion from the readymade garments sector and remittances of the expatriate workers respectively. Other export sectors will also be adversely affected due to the downward trend of the world economy. There would be global fall in the demands for garments products. This will lead to cut down in production and closure of factories which will in turn cause lay off of the workers. In recent time, the price of petroleum has fallen down considerably. This trend may further aggravate because of the pandemic caused by the Coronavirus. This would mean fall in earnings for the oil exporting countries. The middle-eastern countries where most of the Bangladeshis go for work are to a great extent dependent on the earnings from oil exports. This will slow down their economies and as a result demands for foreign workers will fall. This may adversely affect the job prospects of our human resources in those countries. In many cases, many already working there may be sent back to Bangladesh. These probable fall outs of the pandemic will also adversely affect Bangladesh economy causing internal fall in demand and unemployment which will also have undesirable social and political impacts.
It seems in the near future there lies enormous challenges for Bangladesh and its people. First, we need to come out successfully of the Coronavirus pandemic through appropriate and timely medical and other interventions. In this respect the government, communities and individuals need to work together with missionary zeal to defeat the deadly menace of the corona pandemic with minimum loss of human lives. Simultaneously, concerted efforts must also need to be there from all the stakeholders particularly the government, the private sector and the international development partners to save the economy from going downhill. Only then, it is perceived that Bangladesh will not lose its way in the face of a pandemic caused by the Coronavirus and will be able to continue its onward journey to achieve economic prosperity and eradicate poverty for all time to come.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka.