Covid-19 has been a global pandemic due to the calamitous effect of the lethal virus. People from more than 212 countries have been compelled to spend times with anxieties. The governments of different countries have implemented lockdowns to keep people at home following the WHO guideline, which is considered the most helpful strategy to contain the spread of the virus. Like those of other countries, the government of Bangladesh had to enforce lockdown in the form of government holidays from March to May 2020 to tackle the contamination of the first wave of the virus and save people from being infected. With some criticisms, the government decision worked well, and the people of Bangladesh could successfully overcome the first wave of attack. The contamination rate dropped below 2%. Unfortunately, since last March 2021, the situation changed dramatically, leading the government to resume its complete lockdown for one week from 14 April.
A relevant question now is whether a complete lockdown can be imposed in a country like Bangladesh? This topic is debated globally as it has become challenging to implement the lockdown even in developed countries. Of course, the situation is different in developed nations, where there are very few citizens on the road, and thus the government could manage to provide adequate assistance to the people in need to save them from the cataclysmic impact of Covid-19. However, the governments of developed countries have faced problems in treating patients and contain the spread of this lethal virus despite having sufficient funding and developed medical facilities.Like in developed countries, the situation in South Asian countries has continued to worsen over a few weeks in the second wave of infection. The people of Bangladesh have been asked to stay at home and maintain social distancing during the lockdown that started on 14 April. It is known that the country is at a severe stage of transmission of the Covid-19. In the past few weeks, more than five thousand patients have been diagnosed corona positive every day, yielding a positivity rate of more than 20 per cent. The death rate has reached 112. There is hardly any bed in any hospitals across the country as the pressure of the patients is tremendously high.
The imposition of lockdown to restrain the spread of the virus is quite challenging for the government of Bangladesh as around 3.2 million people in our country live under the poverty line. These people are typically working in the informal sectors and maintain their family expenditure based on their daily income. Thus, it is challenging for the government to identify these large groups of people and provide adequate assistance. Therefore, all actors must consider the gravity of the problems of the government before making any absurd comments on the effectiveness of decisions. Like the whole world, the people of Bangladesh have not experienced such a pandemic in the last fifty years. Of course, questions are raised over the maturity of the government departments in taking the right decisions at the right time. One may argue that the authorities concerned could have discharged their responsibilities well during the first wave of the infection. Even they could have taken enough preparations to fight the second wave of the deadly disease on the basis of first wave experiences. Despite criticisms, we must admit that the government of Bangladesh cannot continue complete lockdown for a long time. We all know that why it is so?
Besides these groups of people who live from hand to mouth, different groups of people are considered middle or lower-middle classes. They are currently also vulnerable to survival as they face dual challenges. They neither have enough money to meet expenses during the lockdown nor do they obtain help from various government and non-governmental organisations. Even there are businessmen, from lower to upper levels, who are also getting in difficulty managing their expenses without opening their shops and companies. The long-term closure of their business poses them with problems, as they still require paying their employees' wages.
Sheikh Hasina government offered extensive support to all spectrums of people during the first wave of the pandemic. They sold kitchen commodities through Open Market Sale at a lower price. Five million families received direct cash assistance. They also implemented one of the most extensive incentive packages in the world for the economy to fight back. Moreover, the coverage of the social safety nets was extended for bringing more people under different services.
Along with the government, different non-governmental organisations also supported the poor people. It was a collective effort that saved us in the fight against the corona in its first wave. Unfortunately, the second wave of the infection hit the country at such a time when the market price of the kitchen commodities already increased due to Ramadan. Along with Ramadan, the news of lockdown inspired inhuman and corrupt business people to increase the price hike of most commodities further. Even the price of vegetables has gone up two-three times higher than a week before. The price hike of the essential commodities has put the government and the citizens in a more vulnerable position during the lockdown.
An important question is: what will be our ultimate destiny concerning Covid-19 because many public health experts have anticipated that we are approaching the worst if we fail to ensure complete lockdown at least for two-three weeks? For the first few days, we have seen the law enforcing agencies successfully enforced lockdown. Even most of the people have been found supporting the government staying at homes. Of course, we have seen many come on the street without any valid reasons. The government deserves appreciation for controlling the mass gathering during the Pohela Baishakh. Had they not been able to control the gathering, the situation could have been worse after a week as the mobility of people would have increased the rate of contamination. The real challenge for the government would come when they would be required to extend the period of lockdown. Having observed the overall coronal situation, they might require further extension of the lockdown to contain the spread. The government has already decided to extend the lockdown by another week. Now the government requires being thoughtful about restraining people’s movement during the Eid. We must also realise that without collective efforts, it would not be able to face the challenges of the second wave.Therefore, we must understand the essence of enforcement of a complete lockdown in the country to contain the spread of Covid-19 and the despairs of the majority of the people rather than criticising the government's decision. Considering the gravity of people's miseries, responsible authorities in government quite rightly pointed out that they had no alternative but to relax the lockdown provisions in some cases so that business people can continue their business following proper Covid-19 protocols. On the other hand, the government's decision to send direct cash to 3.6 million people in dire traits before Eid would undoubtedly make them happy. There is no denying that the lockdown would create grieves for a vast majority of the people. Therefore, we must endure momentary pains for the sake of the greater welfare of the country and a better and safer future.
The writer is a Professor of Public
Administration at the University of