Bangladesh has embarked on the path of gradually withdrawing the lockdown. From the next month, in phases, economic activities will be allowed to resume. The concept of lockdown has been relatively new to the people of the world. Its presence is definitely there in the dictionaries of different languages of the world. But what exactly it means and how far its scope could be was not known to many of us. It has been learned that lockdown is applied in extraordinary or dire situations. In the past, there have been references of lockdowns though in a much limited scale and scope. Such lockdowns were imposed to stop the spread of diseases that were contiguous in nature. The measures were successful in containing the diseases from causing widespread infections among the larger population.
The current pandemic caused by the Covid-19 Virus has surpassed all others of the past in terms of its ferocity and deadliness. Started in December, 2019 it has now reached every corners of the world infecting all shades of people irrespective of race, colour and age groups. By now it has infected on record many millions and caused deaths to lakhs of people. Till now, no cure in the form of vaccine to create antibody or confirmed medicinal treatments for recovery has been found. It has been reported that many institutions and researchers around the globe are relentlessly trying to find a vaccine and effective medicines to successfully combat the menace of the Cobid-19 virus. By now, countries and many philanthropic organisations have invested billions of US dollars for the said purposes.But success is still eluding all of them.In such an utter uncertain situation, governments around the world were left out with no other alternatives but to clamp the draconian measure of lockdown either of whole or part of the countries. In most of the cases, the lockdown applied to the entire countries. China where the Covid-19 was first appeared was the first to resort to the measure of lockdown. Later, other hard hit countries like Italy, Spain, France, England and Iran also lockdown their countries. In later days, all other countries including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Philippines also lockdown their countries to contain the further spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control. Here it needs to be noted that only a few countries like Sweden, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan did not lockdown their countries and went for other soft measures to fight the pandemic. South Korea also did not lockdown the whole country other than where the virus infections were found. Again, after containing it, the lockdown imposed in that particular region was also withdrawn. This is currently the scenario around the world with respect to lockdown.
However, the lockdown of course achieved or served the immediate purpose. The measure has been successful in containing the spread of the virus by ensuring reduced infection rate than that was prevailing. The reduced rate of infection also reduced the rate of hospitalisation, thus providing relief to the healthcare facilities and the frontline health personnel.
This positive development has provided glimmer of hope to the policy makers to plan for opening up the normal way of life of the people including the economic activities. Under the same understanding and hope, only a few weeks back, China has also withdrawn lockdown of the Wuhan province where the virus originated. But measures like social distancing and putting on protective gears like masks and hand gloves still continues. Again, withdrawal does not mean opening up everything; rather it is done in phases so that the progress could be observed and if necessary again restrictive measure at once could be reintroduced.
But whatever may be the case, most of the countries are now in a desperate situation to withdraw the lockdown and open up their economies. Riding on the successes so far achieved in reducing the number of infections and deaths due to lockdown, some of the European countries like Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and Baltic countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are gradually opening up and resuming some economic, educational and social activities. The lockdown has devastating effects on the economic, social and psychological lives of the people wherever lockdowns were imposed.
Bangladesh under lockdown for months has also being experiencing similar effects like other countries of the world. In a recent policy decision, the government has decided to gradually withdraw the lockdown. Here it must be pointed out that the lockdown is definitely saving lives but at the same time it is taking away the livelihood of the millions. Some are of the opinion that that of those who have lost their livelihoods will not be able to recover them in near future. In the recent past, Bangladesh has been able to reduce the incidence of poverty. But with the negative economic impacts of the lockdown, gain achieved in poverty reduction may have already been lost. With increased economic activities, many jobs were created in the informal sector. Now it appears that these have been lost due to the consequences of the lockdown. The formal and export sectors are also under extreme pressure for survival. As part of global impact of the pandemic and lockdowns, the demand for human resources from Bangladesh has drastically fallen. This is going to negatively affecting the remittance to the country.
However, to give respite and ensure recovery, the government has already been implementing a number of safety net and stimulus packages. But we need to remember that our resources are limited. For that reason, complete lockdown for long is not feasible for Bangladesh. Many people say that is a choice between saving lives and livelihoods. It is true that life comes first. But livelihoods ensure the sustainability of human lives. If livelihoods are lost then it will lead to extreme case starvation and death. Such kind of situation will lead to extreme form of social unrest and also give rise to extremist forces in the country.So Bangladesh is caught in between two extremes to make a choice during this pandemic caused by the Covid-19 Virus. In such a dilemma, opting for gradual opening seems to be a move in the right direction. Gradual opening will give opportunity to the government to observe the developments and take appropriate measures depending on the consequences of the opening of the lockdown.
The biggest threat will be maintaining the safety protocols suggested by the WHO while easing the lockdown. In a highly populated country, it is extremely difficult to maintain particularly social distancing in public and working places. Commuting in public transports maintaining safety measures will also pose great problem. Housing and sanitation for people living in slums are also great challenges and health concerns.
However, now Bangladesh needs to move forward in gradually withdrawing lockdown keeping all preventive options open. It must be remembered that all possible conscious efforts must be made to save the lives of the people through healthcare, economic and social and many other different recognised measures by the government. At the same time, through concerted efforts of all livelihoods of many millions must also be saved, if it could not be done, will cause widespread deaths and destruction that will have no less deadly and devastating impact than the pandemic.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka.