Considering the daily Covid-19 positivity rate and fatalities, the government has no option but to strictly implement the ongoing lockdown for saving the lives of the people.
As some parts of the economy are open amid the lockdown, people with higher incomes are coming out of their homes. Besides, the rich people who have cars or own vehicles also are coming out on various pretexts. For all this, the lockdown is not being fully implemented.
On the other hand, due to the unavailability of work, poor people engaged in the informal sector are coming out in a relatively lesser number. They do not have the scope to go out in search of a new job either.
In this way, there is a kind of inequality even in the implementation of the lockdown, which has left the poor people suffering the most.
In order to bring health risks under control, it is necessary to ensure enforcement of a strict lockdown by stopping all kinds of economic activities at least for a shorter period of time. And if this is done, there might not be any need for a fresh lockdown in the future. This will reduce the suffering of poor people in the long run.
Nonetheless, it is true those who are forced to take to the streets breaching the lockdown rules only to manage food for survival cannot be confined to homes unless the authorities meet their basic needs including food. And to do that, the government has to take the responsibility of delivering food and liquid money to the poor as relief.
Everyone has an idea about where the poor people live in our urban areas. After the identification of slums based on various zones, a team should be formed comprising public representatives of the local government bodies, government officials, NGOs and volunteers and food aid should be delivered immediately.
After providing slum dwellers with some rice, pulses, oil, potatoes and eggs, the authorities will bar them from leaving their homes for the next one week. If this is done, the number of poor people on the street will come down to at least half.
Due to the coronavirus, rural people are now suffering more compared to those in cities.
The density of poor people is usually high in Kushtia, Jashore, Meherpur, Chuadanga and Khulna regions. Many people in these areas are now struggling to pay for the treatment and oxygen cylinders of their parents infected with the coronavirus. Apart from that, the ongoing lockdown is causing more financial losses to rural people.
Considering this issue, the government must extend a helping hand to the rural poor as well.
The list of beneficiaries of social safety programmes can be used for identifying the poorest people in rural areas. However, there remain some problems as many real poor have not been included in this list while there are the names of many well-off people.
Chairmen and members of the union parishads, however, know the poor people in their area. With their help, relief aid will have to reach the rural areas as soon as possible.
Cash assistance can play an important role in protecting small entrepreneurs by maintaining people's purchasing power.
Due to the lack of a complete list of the poor, the cash assistance announced by the prime minister in the past could not reach the 5 million poor, as it was targeted.
There is a G2P linked to the National Identity Card for the distribution of cash assistance. It needs to be further expanded. The aid distribution activities should be digitalised, even if by creating temporary NIDs with any kind of document.
In order to sustain the livelihood of the people who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic, the government should think seriously about introducing unemployment benefits. And those engaged in small jobs including tailor shops and saloons will have to disburse low-interest and interest-free loans if necessary.
The question also arises as to where the money will come from to do all this. This problem also can be solved if fairness and equality can be ensured in consideration of the losses induced by the coronavirus.
Government officials and employees have already received bonuses for the forthcoming Eid-ul-Azha. They have received festival allowances on every Eid and Pahela Baishakh after the coronavirus outbreak.
Why are these festival allowances being given when no festival is being celebrated during the coronavirus pandemic? The government should cut at least a portion of the festival allowances of the officers while keeping the allowances of those below the officer level intact.
Many employees in the institutional sector, including banks and insurance, have not had their income cut amid the pandemic. On the contrary, many people have seen their income stop completely as they have lost their jobs. As a result, income inequality between the two classes is increasing.
In this situation, the government can increase its revenue earnings by imposing a "Covid tax" on those who are engaged in fixed salaries and whose income has not been affected by Covid-19. And if the money earned from this sector is distributed among the poor, their livelihood will sustain.
This is surely not the case that the government is not helping the poor people at all. Some assistance is being provided by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, but it is much less than required.
The low-income earners have got some relief thanks to the sale of some everyday essentials at subsidised prices by the TCB through 450 trucks. Long queues of people around each truck, however, prove that the supply is less than the demand. The number of trucks should increase rapidly.
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha spoke to Jahidul Islam on telephone
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha is a professor of economics at the University of Dhaka