The shutdown measures implemented to contain the spread of Covid-19 in Bangladesh have caused a drop in income for 95 percent respondents in a countrywide rapid perception survey conducted among lower income people by Brac.
Approximately 51 percent of the respondents said their household incomes were reduced to zero after the public holiday was declared in late March. Besides, around 62 percent of the low-income wage earners faced reduced work opportunities.
Brac published the findings of the survey titled "Covid-19 Awareness and Economic Impact" on Tuesday at a virtual press briefing.
The survey was a follow-up to another one conducted a month ago in early-April this year to get a snapshot of the respondents' economic distress and an overall sense of the general awareness level among them regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.
The latest survey was conducted in 64 districts from May 9-13, just a month after the previous survey. The total number of respondents is 2,317. Among them, 68 percent are from rural areas and 32 percent from urban areas.
Besides, 36.5 percent of the survey respondents are men and 63.5 percent are women. At least two out of 18 respondents selected from each upazila are from households headed by women, in a bid to ensure reflection of the impact of Covid-19 on such households.
Brac's Senior Director KAM Morshed said, "Survey data was collected through both phone and in-person interviews using a structured questionnaire. The study was focused on the lower income group, and 95 percent of the respondents said their incomes dropped amid the pandemic shutdown. The remaining 5 percent were not impacted in such a way.
"Though it is a rapid perception survey, the findings do reflect a country-wide general picture of economic hardship induced by the general holiday declared to minimise the health risks of the pandemic."
According to the survey, 69 percent respondents in need of assistance did not receive any from the government and only 14 percent reported that they received the government provided relief support.
A higher percentage of women (90 percent) reportedly need relief support compared to men (71 percent). In addition, more women (72 percent) reported that they are not getting any relief support from the government, compared to men (62 percent).
This percentage is also higher in rural areas (72 percent), compared to the urban areas (62 percent). The Covid-19 pandemic also left around 28 percent of the respondents economically inactive, the survey found.
Average monthly household income of the respondents was Tk24,565 before the public holidays, which declined to Tk7,096 in May, registering a 76 percent decline in household income.
Loss in income is somewhat greater in urban areas (79 percent) than the rural ones (75 percent).
Respondents from Pirojpur (96 percent), Cox's Bazar (95 percent), Rangamati (95 percent), Gaibandha (94 percent), and Brahmanbaria (93 percent) reported greater losses in income.
Households headed by women are found to be more economically vulnerable compared to households headed by men.
The income losses inevitably impacted food security, particularly among the low-income people.
On average, 16 percent of all households reported that they had only one to three days of food to survive on, while 3 percent of the households did not have any food during the period of the survey.
General awareness about Covid-19
The awareness level has seemingly increased, as the study found that more than three-fourths (76 percent) of the respondents always practice coronavirus preventive behaviours such as washing hands with soap for 20 seconds, social distancing, and covering their mouths while coughing or sneezing.
However, the remaining one-fourth practice these behaviours irregularly, which is alarming.
The data suggests that the majority of the respondents have full (59 percent) or at least partial (38 percent) knowledge about how the coronavirus spreads.
A general air of nonchalance has been observed among the respondents, as 78 percent of them feel that there is no chance or very little chance of them getting infected with the coronavirus.
Only 11 percent of the respondents mentioned that one needs to get tested immediately if coronavirus symptoms show, and less than half of the respondents (42.6 percent) mentioned home quarantine or isolation as possible treatment options.
More than one-fourth (26 percent) of the respondents believe that there is no treatment for the disease. Besides, 37 percent think that the district-level government hospitals do not treat Covid-19 patients.
Twenty-three percent respondents are uncertain about the availability of coronavirus treatment in the government hospitals.
Perception about government assistance
Sixty-three percent of the respondents feel that measures taken by the government to handle the situation induced by the pandemic are adequate or somewhat adequate.
Meanwhile, 38 percent of the respondents said that the relief being distributed to the people in need is inadequate, and 41 percent perceived that there is a gap in reaching the people who need the relief most.
Survival if crisis continues
Nineteen percent of the respondents reported that they will not be able to continue to bear their living expenses for more than seven days.
Sixty-six percent suggested that the government should continue food distribution for the households that are in need.
Respondents also suggested continuation of cash assistance and the "lockdown," and establishment of coronavirus testing and treatment facilities in every district.
In this survey, 11 percent of the respondents mentioned that there has been an increase in violence against women during the pandemic.
Brac also recommended that a special focus be given to households with greater vulnerability, such as those headed by women.
Abul Kalam Azad, former principal coordinator (SDG Affairs) at the Prime Minister's Office, said, "The real scenario is not being reflected by the rapid perception survey. That is why we should run a detailed survey."
However, Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bangladesh Sudipto Mukherjee said the rapid survey is okay in a situation such as shutdown for taking rapid decision.
Mizanur Rahman Khan, joint editor of Prothom Alo, suggested a transparent relief or cash distribution system using a card-oriented process such as the "Aadhaar Card" of India.
Brac's Senior Director Shameran Abed said, "The assistance for vulnerable people amid shutdown is not sufficient from all levels. Brac is thinking of continuing its cash assistance to the needy people."
Brac Director Nobonita Chowdhury also spoke at the virtual press briefing.