Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha, Professor of economics, University of Dhaka
The middle and lower-middle classes suffered the most in last year’s lockdown as businesses and industries remained closed. During October-November, they began recovering from Covid-19 losses. But the impacts on the economy would be worse as infections are rising now. Recovery will also take additional time.
Loan is a big part of the government's Covid-19 stimulus packages. Although this loan has some positive aspects, small traders are under a bit of pressure to repay it. They were thinking of overcoming the previous losses by having good sales on Pahela Baishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr.
In this situation, in order to impose a new lockdown, small traders have to be provided with the necessary funds for survival. Considering the income of the people, food and cash assistance should be provided to the extreme poor while food and daily essentials should be provided to the low-income people at low prices. Also, to help the lower middle income people maintain their purchasing power, the prices of daily commodities have to be controlled in the market.
It goes without saying that the coronavirus crisis has been worsening lately due to the carelessness and indifference of the people as well as the government. The situation has reached such a stage that there is no alternative to lockdown in terms of saving lives. In this situation, everyone has to take responsibility to deal with the future crisis.
It may not be possible for the government alone to reach out to everyone. It has to join hands with representatives of various social organisations, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector to tackle the pandemic in the future.
The shop owners’ association may take responsibility for feeding the employees under it. In the same way, owners in all sectors, including apparels, should arrange some common medical facilities for their workers. In this case, the government also has to impose some obligations.
Some sectors are fully closed during strict lockdowns. The income of workers in some sectors, such as ride sharing, beauty parlours, salons, hotels, and restaurants, completely stops during lockdowns. The government has to identify these sectors and arrange special allowances or loans for them.
A small but strict lockdown will help reduce coronavirus infections. After that, if the economy is reopened, some rules have to be followed for the long term.
All types of meetings and seminars had been held online since last year's lockdown. Almost all government and private offices had operated virtually. All meetings and seminars will have to be arranged online for at least the next six months.
Long-term monitoring of the adherence to hygiene rules in residential hotels, resorts, and restaurants is needed. Masks should be made compulsory everywhere, including in shops and offices.
Online shopping is rising. To make this sector more popular, the government has to provide incentives for some services, such as delivery. People of all echelons, including government officials, have to make some compromises to tackle the pandemic.
Government officials have received Pahela Baishakh allowances. Eid allowances will perhaps be paid in the future. The present situation is not favourable when it comes to celebrating Baishakh or Eid.
In this situation, the allowances of top-ranking employees could have been spent on other purposes. Apart from that, if it was made compulsory to use this money to buy products of local small entrepreneurs, that could have played a role in reviving the economy.