The increasing spread of the COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect the majority of countries worldwide. It has not only created a short-term health-related catastrophe but also a crippling social and economic challenge for all the countries. The majority of the World's population would be adversely impacted by income losses that can contribute to inequality. It is estimated that these forms of disparity affect society, healthcare, education, human rights, basic food security and nutrition deficits. Lack of funding, vulnerable and underdeveloped health system, and lack of exposure to soap and water that have deepened the spread of COVID-19, can frustrate those who are likely to get infected by COVID-19 in countries like Bangladesh.With time, the situation gets aggravated in Bangladesh as more test undertaken by the government identified more patients. Public health experts have kept on insisting on increasing the number of tests for getting a clear picture of the situation of COVID-19. Together with national public health experts, various international organisations have apprehended that since the curve of infected people is going upwards that may take a devastating shape during the mid-to-late May.
When the number of patients is increasing every day a couple of decisions of the government enabling the reopening shops and markets and allowing people to say their prayers in mosques have created anxiety among the citizens of the country. The government has clearly instructed that all the markets and mosque management committees must ensure the practice of hand washing, wearing of masks and maintaining of social distancing following the guidelines of the health department. But, a pertinent question is whether it is possible to ensure health hygiene at these places. Therefore, many have apprehended that such decisions might intensity the severity of the infection.
Alongside these two decisions, many of us have also been surprised by the government's decision to allow garment factories to operate following health hygiene. We all know that garment workers typically work in an exhausted and unhygienic environment. In general, therefore, health hygiene is difficult to maintain there. Of course, some factories are maintaining a hygienic environment following the government's directives. But, these are not maintained in most factories. Such an unhealthy environment may put at risk thousands of garments workers who then might infect several hundred thousand people. Therefore, the situation could become even worse shortly, despite the government's phenomenal efforts to assist people during the pandemic.
This is for sure that the government has its arguments in favour of these decisions. For instance, the garment industry, which is one of the main pillars of our economy, may face a serious challenge as most of their orders have been either cancelled or would be cancelled if the factories remain closed for an uncertain period. This would put them at risk of survival. Moreover, several European and North American companies are in the process of shifting their factories from China. Therefore, this could be a potential opportunity for the Bangladeshi garment industry if they could draw attention to these companies by gaining their confidence that they can provide them with the same facilities that China offers them. At the same time, countries like India, Vietnam, and Thailand are also targeting these companies. Whilst this is a good strategy that would help our economy to rebuild, we must contemplate that if COVID-19 is not controlled quickly, Bangladesh will not be their next destination. Therefore, we should take every decision after thinking twice.
On the part of the government, they are worried about those people who are connected with business and markets as enduring lockdown has brought tremendous sufferings for them. It has been difficult for them to maintain their livelihood as they cannot go on the street in search of relief and government assistance. Because of lockdown, they could not make money selling products during the Bangla New Year. Therefore, if they could not make at least a reasonable amount of money during the Eid, they would face a serious challenge that may put them at risk of survival. These are brute realities that cannot be ignored. However, we must always look at the health safety of our citizens. Many have argued that the owners of these markets or garment industries would not have any impact on their health rather the poor workers would suffer from this deadly disease. Many of us have been criticising the government's decision without comprehending that the government of a country like Bangladesh can't feed at least 4 to 5 crore people keeping them at home. Therefore, they are in a fix what to do.
Despite having some compulsions, the government should consider the long term impact of COVID-19 on our economy if it continues to get spread. For instance, the country may remain isolated from the rest of the world if we fail to contain the spread of this virus and persuade the world that we are safe. The possible negative impact could be a travel ban on the people of Bangladesh by different countries of the world. This means that no international plane would come to Bangladesh and our planes would not be given clearance to land those countries. This may cut the country off from the rest of the world. Considering the contagious nature of COVID-19, every country of the world would remain very careful to resume their connection with other countries. There is a possibility that people of Europe, the United States and the UK who have already left Bangladesh may not be thinking of returning the country until the situation improves. If they do not come, investment, trade and other important relations with these countries may get disrupted.
In the last 4 months, nearly one million people have returned home from different countries who were working there as migrant workers. If the COVID-19 does not improve significantly, those countries will not be able to get them back to work. If they fail to return, this would not only affect them but also affect the country's foreign remittance which is one of the two most important pillars of our economy.
Our garment owners were seen very serious about sending their orders in due time. That is why they could make the government understand that they should open their industries. But, there is a possibility that their products might not be accepted by their buyers if the situation does not improve rapidly. It is because of rumours and myths about the transmission of infection through different products. Many countries have already cancelled their orders from China though the COVID-19 situation has come under control there. If this happens in our country, it may put the garment sector at the highest risk.
The nation will thus be faced with a huge economic challenge brought on by COVID-19. Indeed, the same problem lies with all countries of the world. But, we all know that the government could manage to place our economy in a strong footing before the COVID-19. One positive fact is that it has been apprehended by different international organisations that despite the catastrophic effect of COVID-19, our economy will remain strong as compared to other countries of the world. Therefore, the government should take appropriate, credible and realistic steps to contain COVID-19 not only from the public health perspective but also from the perspective of holding our economy. If we could manage to take some mature steps in containing COVID-19, we would be able to retain our strong economic position in the world.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi.