Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wednesday lent her support for the coronavirus-hit workers and the poor when she announced a Tk5,000-crore ($588m) incentive for export-oriented industries that would be spent explicitly to pay wages to workers.
In a televised address to the nation, she also announced wider social safety net measures for low-income and homeless people to help them tackle tough times during the coronavirus crisis.
"The country's production and exports may be harmed due to the coronavirus. I hereby declare a Tk5,000-crore ($588m) incentive package for export-oriented industries. The money can be utilised to only pay the workers," she said.
The premier also said low-income people will receive government assistance under the "Ghore Fera" (Returning Home) programme in their village homes because many have lost jobs due to the coronavirus.
Besides, the homeless and landless will get free housing, food for six months and some cash while programmes such as Vulnerable Group Development, Vulnerable Group Feeding and Tk10 per kg rice sales will be continued.
By the time the Prime Minister spoke to the nation, the disaster management ministry had already dispatched 500 tonnes of rice and cash between Tk5lakh and Tk10 lakh to all the district administrations.
The prime minister also said free medicine and treatment are being offered to the poor.
In her speech, she recalled Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and lakhs of valiant freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for the cause of the liberation of Bangladesh from the Pakistani occupation forces.
She said this year's Independence Day is being celebrated with a different approach as the whole world is reeling because of the deadly coronavirus.
She called on the people to refrain from stockpiling daily commodities so that limited-income groups do not suffer in the wake of a shortage in food and other necessary products in markets.
"The country has witnessed a mega yield of Aman paddy and other crops this season. Government silos countrywide have 17 lakh tonnes of food grains…Now is the time to help each other and show humanity," she said.
"It will be easy to combat the coronavirus if a number of health rules are followed. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Cover your nose and face with handkerchief or tissue when you sneeze or cough. Do not cough or spit everywhere," she said.
She also requested all to stay at home unless there is an emergency to go out and to refrain from shaking hands, hugging and being in mass gatherings.
She urged the followers of all religions to perform their prayers at home.
She especially requested the expatriates who returned to the country from coronavirus affected countries to abide by home quarantine rules.
"Please remain in self-isolation for only 14 days. You need to follow the guidelines to save the lives of your families, neighbours, people of your localities and above all our countrymen," she said.
Preparedness for coronavirus
Since January when the coronavirus disease broke out in China, the government has been taking massive preparations to prevent its spread in Bangladesh, said the prime minister.
Returnees from abroad were screened at three international airports, two sea ports and all land ports, including Dhaka Cantonment and Benapole Railway Station. So far, over 6.58 lakh passengers have been screened.
A national committee led by the health minister has been formed while committees have been formed in all city corporations, municipalities, districts, upazilas and unions. Six hospitals have been prepared for coronavirus patients while three more are being prepared. Separate beds have been preserved for coronavirus patients at hospitals at district and upazila levels.
For quarantine, 290 institutions have been prepared across the country. A total of 14,565 isolation beds, including 10,050 in Dhaka, are ready where 16,741 patients can be treated.
"We have already stopped on-arrival visas. The missions abroad have been directed not to issue any visas to foreign nationals while the local administration has been keeping the foreign returnees in quarantine," Sheikh Hasina said.
The head of the government further said health workers will have to play the key role to provide care to the infected. "Their protection issue has been prioritised and we have enough stocks of personal protective equipment for them."
Till Tuesday, 13,000 test kits were in stock and 30,000 more will reach the country soon. There are eight testing machines in Dhaka. And work is going on to set up coronavirus test labs at 7 other divisions.
"I thank health workers, law enforcing agencies, armed forces and members of the administration for working together to prevent the spread of the virus. The public awareness campaign has been strengthened on radio, television, newspapers and other social media," she said.
She asked all to keep themselves away from spreading rumours and threatened stern action if anyone indulges in them.