The service sector – which contributes 55% to GDP – remained far away from normal when consumer goods and manufacturing made a quick recovery from pandemic shocks after the 66-day shutdown was lifted.
After going at half pace in normal times for over three months after the shutdown, the sector has finally made a strong comeback with a 70% recovery, say industry related people.
Private hospitals, non-government educational institutions, restaurants, hotels and resorts and transport have begun to return to normalcy.
Most people engaged in the service sector have rejoined work although their incomes have fallen compared to normal times'.
Narayan C Das, development economist and senior research fellow at Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), told The Business Standard the entire service sector except for banks was closed during the shutdown. Even when economic activities resumed, most people did not go out unless there was an emergency.
But everything is becoming normal. The service sector's different sub-sectors such as tourism, hotel-resorts, hospitals and communications are getting back their usual pace. Most people rejoined work in all sectors except educational institutions, he added.
Private hospitals and clinics are a major part of the service sector. Doctors' seeing non-Covid patients remained stopped at the beginning of the pandemic. In fears of contracting coronavirus during the time, people also stopped visiting hospitals unless there was a serious health condition.
Now, the situation has changed with patients rushing to hospitals and clinics in a good number.
Mahbubur Rahman, manager of Islami Bank Central Hospital in Dhaka's Mirpur, said 80% patients have returned.
Usually 2,000 patients used to come to the hospital's outdoors daily. Currently, the number hovers around 1,500-1,600.
This is the overall scenario of more than 10,000 licensed private clinics and diagnostic centres, said Dr Muniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Private Medical Association.
He said though the number of patients in their hospitals is getting low since the medical facilities are treating Covid-19 patients, the overall situation is getting better every day.
Hotel, restaurants get back pace
The "Mojaddedia Hotel and Restaurant" in the capital's Merul Badda was shutdown in March after the pandemic started to rage leaving its owner and 24 staff with no income. The workers had no choice but to go back to their native villages in distress.
Later, on 4 June, the eatery reopened with the government relaxing the shutdown. The sales at the restaurant are much lower now than normal times and 20 workers have returned to work.
Ansar Ali, a waiter at the restaurant, told The Business Standard, "My earnings started to increase gradually after I rejoined the work. Now, I earn Tk300-400 in tips daily excluding my salary. In pre-pandemic times, I used to earn Tk400-500."
Rafiqul Islam, manager of Mojaddedia Hotel and Restaurant, said, "My monthly earnings now is Tk50,000 which was Tk70,000-80,000 in normal times. The situation is improving gradually. I hope my earnings will recover fully soon."
Khandaker Ruhul Amin, president of the Bangladesh Restaurant Owners Association, said, "Covid-19 is yet to cease and the people still tend to go home to have food after finishing their work. Moreover, schools and colleges have not reopened.
Therefore, sales at restaurants have not yet picked up pace, he added.
The coronavirus induced shutdown brought the lives of more than 7 million people involved in the transport industry – one of the major sub-sectors of the service sector – to a grinding halt.
Although there were restrictions in terms of carrying passengers in the first several weeks following the reopening of the public transport services in July, the vehicles have been running on full capacity since the beginning of September.
The business in this sector has returned to almost the normal level by now.
Osman Ali, general secretary of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers Federation, said most of the transport workers have already got back to work.
However, long-distance luxury buses have not yet returned to the normal operation, said Khandaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of the Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association.
The current level of luxury bus business is around 30% compared to the normal times, he said.
Tourism, education still on slow track
Amazing tours Bangladesh provides domestic and international packages, air tickets, hotel and resort booking services. After the coronavirus hit, all of its employees were furloughed in March when its office was shut.
Although the agency reopened in September, its business has only returned to less than 10% of what it was in normal times. Instead of 37 people, now 10 workers are working in Amazing tours.
Mohsin Iqbal, managing director of Amazing tours Bangladesh said to The Business Standard, "Overseas ticketing and tour services are completely closed. Although the internal tour is a bit open, it is about 10 percent compared to normal time. As a result, the office is running with limited manpower."
Like Mohsin Iqbal, three lakh people directly engaged in the tours and travels sector and 40 lakhs in the tourism sector continue to experience a major negative impact on their incomes.
Education and Skill Development are another major sub-sector of the service sector. Due to the closure of educational institutions. Currently around 25 lakh teachers, officers and employees of Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College have returned to their income through online classes and coaching.
However, the income was less than half of the compared to normal time, said Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, president of Bangladesh Kindergarten School and College Oikko Parishad,
Informal service sector on the way to recovery
Real-estate started turning around in June as the 66-day countrywide shutdown ended in the previous month. Most workers of the sector have now returned to jobs.
Organizing Secretary to the Bangladesh Building Construction Workers Union Taibur Rahman Toha told The Business Standard that the pandemic-led shutdown left around 35 lakh construction workers jobless in the March-June period.
"Now 90% of the workers have returned to the construction sites as the situation began to improve," he added.
According to the central committee of the Bangladesh Barbers Welfare Council, there are 10 lakh barbers across the country while Dhaka alone has 52,000 hairdressers. The shutdown put them in severe financial troubles, but most of them now have reopened their shops.
The council's central committee leader Dipak Kumar Shil said the situation started improving from the last week of June and it is almost normal now.
However, Policy Research Institute Executive Director Ahsan H Mansur said people have not got their confidence back with no clear idea about the pandemic situation. The country is also at risk of the second wave of coronavirus.
He commented that people's expenditure has got stuck at a certain level after the resumption of economic activities. Many returned to villages after income losses while others did not have enough cash to spend at will.