Carrying out an effective vaccination programme in Bangladesh was hindered by the lack of diversification in attempting to secure vaccines from different sources and instead fully relying on a single manufacturer.
In terms of the recovery process, the country has sort of relied on the forces of nature and the natural immunity of people, said the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Chairman Professor Rehman Sobhan.
He came up with the observation on Saturday at a panel discussion titled 'COVID-19 Contexts and Recovery – South Asian Perspective' at the second day of the 2nd SANEM International Development Conference (SIDC)-2021 on 'COVID-19 Recovery: Contexts and Priorities', says a press release.
Observing that the healthcare system has been deficit in terms of its allocation priority and the health governance has also been exceedingly poor, Professor Sobhan said, "Bangladesh's capacity to contain transmission and administer regulatory processes has been quite weak which has also affected its capacity to enforce restrictions on public movements during the crisis."
In the absence of universal unemployment insurance schemes or other compensatory interventions, the central problem to imposing lockdowns across South Asian countries has been to ensure that people do not lose their livelihoods, observed Professor Sobhan.
Drawing attention to the similar economic impact of the pandemic across South Asian countries, Professor Sobhan said, "The macro impact has largely been transmitted through the export markets due to the crisis of demand in international markets. In the domestic markets of the South Asian economies, there have been significant problems such as demand-side failures which have had negative impacts on the income-earning capacities of the most distressed sections of the population. Particularly, at the micro and SME levels, big deficits have emerged and the response has been inadequate. Consequently, this has led to growth slowdowns and reversals in development outcomes across the countries."
The panel discussion, moderated by Dhaka University Economics Department Professor and also Executive Director of SANEM Dr Selim Raihan, was also addressed by Professor Deepak Nayyar, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Professor Depak Nayyar said the pandemic has created an overreaching state, which has led to curbed rights and freedom of citizens almost everywhere. The response of the people is also a cause of concern - reluctance to wear masks and obey lockdown rules, combined with the difficulty in physical distancing in densely populated South Asia countries are major issues.
He said the pandemic has led to a dramatic accentuation in inequality - there is a disproportionately large burden on the poor. Recovery, therefore, is K-shaped. South Asia has always lagged behind in the economic transformation of Asia in the past 50 years; not only in terms of economic performance but also social development.
Prof Nayyar said, "In contemplating the future, this pandemic presents opportunities in terms of rethinking macroeconomic policies, rebuilding physical infrastructure, and investing in social infrastructure. For South Asian countries it is essential to invest in social infrastructure, both health and education, to improve the wellbeing of people."
The JNU professor emphasised that it is time to recognise the logic of international, collective action. Despite reluctance from governments, citizens of South Asian countries must recognise the enormous potential benefits of cooperation on responses to the pandemic - there is much to learn from each other from what was done right and wrong.
The second panel discussion titled 'COVID-19: Contexts and Priorities – Gender Perspective' was addressed by Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director of CPD, and Dr Mona Shrestha Adhikari, Chief Executive Officer, Enterprise for Management, Economic Reform and Gender Equality, Nepal.
Dr Fahmida said with the dampening of economic activities caused by the Covid-19, women in Bangladesh, who are largely employed in the informal sector, were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Several studies revealed that women not only faced an increased burden of unpaid work during the pandemic, but also were subjected to domestic violence and abuse at higher rates.
Due to nationwide school closures, many children from poor families were forced to drop out of schools and married off at an early age. As a result of increased child marriages and unwanted pregnancies, long term impacts such as loss of human resources and deterioration in health and nutritional outcomes for women and children are going to be seen, Dr Fahmida predicted.
She also mentioned that, although many stimulus packages for small and micro enterprises (SMEs) were announced by the government since the beginning of the crisis, women entrepreneurs faced considerable difficulty in accessing these funds due to the absence of trade licenses, collaterals etc. In terms of accessing social safety packages such as direct cash support extended by the government, women often face difficulty in getting themselves on the list of beneficiaries due to the lack of lobbying power.
The panel discussion, conducted to discuss the challenges faced by women in the pandemic, was moderated by Dhaka University Economics Department Professor and also Research Director of SANEM Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha.
Dr Bidisha said previous evidence from economic shocks suggests that women bear the burden more strongly than men and the Covid-19 pandemic is no expectation.
She observed that in the job and earnings losses due to the pandemic, women have suffered more as they lag behind in the labour market and often engage in the informal sector. Overall, evidence shows that monetary costs for women are also quite high. In the education sector, especially in higher education, the gender divide is likely to be broader due to Covid-19. There are also non-monetary issues, such as higher gender-based violence and a greater burden of unpaid care work on women that need to be addressed.
Dr Mona Shrestha Adhikari said the general impact on women during Covid-19 were mainly on health - both mental and physical - and safety concerns of oneself and those they care about. As workers, women were affected in terms of salary and work from home not being a viable option for many.
She said in Nepal, the pandemic affected women more than men, as more women lost their jobs. It has impacted all kinds of firms, MSMEs in particular.
On the second day of the conference, SANEM organised two paper presentation sessions and two-panel discussions.
The first paper presentation session hosted eight research paper presentations by young scholars from the South Asian Economic Students' Group. Eminent economist Professor Wahiduddin Mahmud attended the session as the special guest and Dr Deb Kusum Das, associate professor, Ramjas College, University of Delhi, moderated the session.
The second paper presentation session on "Trade and Macroeconomics II" was chaired by Dr Prabir De, Professor, Asean-India Centre (AIC), Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), India.
Researchers and economists from various international research organisations, including the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan, Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, and The World Bank, presented their papers during the session.