Monday, 23 May, 2022

Think Out of the Box to Tame Omicron

Shaikh Rezanul Haque Manik

Think Out of the Box to Tame Omicron
Shaikh Rezanul Haque Manik

The Covid-19-induced restrictions came back after five months. With Omicron spreading rapidly across the world, Bangladesh is bracing for the battle against the third wave of the pandemic. Observing the varying degrees of Covid that the world had undergo over the last one and half a years, we can safely presume that this pandemic is here to stay. The experiences of different countries as well as data from scientific research also corroborate this idea.

Since we are witnessing different variants of the coronavirus as well – such as the widespread and more lethal Delta variant – there is no guarantee that even more deadly variants would not emerge in the future. In the initial stage of this disease, we thought it would cease to exist within a year, and we would probably be able to go back what we call the “pre-Covid level” and we would have something like “post-Covid” situation.

Given the circumstances, however, it seems there will probably be no post-Covid situation, at least the way we have expected. The disease is likely to persist at varying degrees across the world. Therefore, we need to be prepared to cope with it following appropriate plans and policies. We also need to revisit our development strategies accordingly. What steps should be evolved to attain that?

We can start with developing a set of policies for running economic activities amid the outbreak of new wave of Covid-19. These policies should involve two major segments. One is sector-specific— how different sectors can function in the midst of a pandemic. The sector-specific strategy would demonstrate the guidelines those are applicable to manufacturing companies. But it may not be equally effective for the service-sector firms. For example, the policy for running a restaurant would be different from that of running a readymade garment factory.

The other segment of the strategy should be area-specific depending on population size and the types of economic activities. For example, the protocol or strategy applicable for Dhaka would be different from the one for Rangpur because the type and intensity of economic activities are different in these two areas. In order to develop and integrate sector-specific and area-specific development strategies, the government should involve the major stakeholders— especially the private sector, representatives from different economic fields and experts on public health. Besides, those responsible for developing these protocols should take into account the global experience.

Unfortunately, we have not seen from the government to develop such strategies. Over the last one and half a years, we have witnessed both escalation and de-escalation of the Covid-19 situation in our country. The initiatives or steps taken so far from the government level have been ad-hoc basis, to say the most. We saw the government sometimes was compelled to impose lockdown in order to contain the transmission of the disease. However, due to weak enforcement capacity, the restrictions were far from effectively executed. The poor execution of lockdown measures rather caused gruelling economic and social losses. A proper assessment of the management of Covid-19 situation is, therefore, needed to design the protocols for the coming days.

Indeed, Covid-19 has caused enormous losses and shocks in the socio-economic arenas of our country. The economy, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises, has suffered quite a lot. The intensity was so much that a number of micro and small industries had to shut down and many others might have to do the same. At the same time, we have also noticed some deep social losses in terms of poverty, mounting unemployment and labour market turmoil abroad. We are also witnessing large-scale disruption in thee education and the health sector.

In the case for economic recovery, two areas call for urgent attention. One of them is vaccination. Without an effective vaccination campaign we cannot keep the scourge of Covid-19 under control. The vaccination programmes need to be more strengthened and uncertainties related to it must be dealt with properly. The second issue is stimulus packages. The government has taken massive stimulus packages in order to keep economy afloat. But, to put it sadly, there has been no proper assessment of the effectiveness of stimulus packages. Whether these packages reached real affected industries or not must be evaluated. Some analyses done by the south Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) revealed that although micro and small enterprises are the most affected sector, a large part of them remained outside the benefit of the stimulus packages. The management of these packages has to be more goal-oriented. There should also be a proper monitoring mechanism for the effective execution of these stimulus packages.

Since the onset of Covid-19, educational institutions have remained closed for more than a year. A somewhat functional online education system and distance learning process have been in place. But due to various reasons, especially the high poverty rate and low access to the online learning platforms, many students have not been able to participate in the online education or distance learning processes. As a result, there are high chances of a part of the young generation falling out of the education system as drop-out rates at primary and secondary levels and the incidence of early marriage of girls have escalated during this crisis.

The health sector was in messed-up state even before Covid-19 struck Bangladesh because of the all-pervasive corruption, abysmally low public spending on the sector, widespread institutional deficiencies in terms of poor management and lesser accountability. The pandemic have virtually laid bare the acute crisis in our health sector and it needs major overhauling to combat the Covid-19-induced challenges.

As we assume and understand there is no let-up of this deadly disease anytime soon, we can redefine different planning strategies for social and economic recovery. We must move away from the stereotyped planning process; rather we should think out of the box to confront looming challenges likely to arise from the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. As for this, we need to move away from the top-down approach and adopt bottom-up approach to combat the crisis effectively and keep the economy afloat.


The writer is a retired Deputy General Manager, BSCIC