The Covid-19 is now a global pandemic and Bangladesh has also been affected by the deadly virus. It is anticipated that the coronavirus is going to be a prolonged crisis across the globe.
As experts still could not invent an effective treatment protocol, most countries are following the social distancing measure as advised by the World Health Organization, to prevent spreading of the virus.
The government has taken steps to restrict mobility of the citizens by closing down offices, educational institutions, transportations etc. In addition, the law enforcement agencies have been deployed across the country to ensure that social distancing is being observed properly
The impact of the novel coronavirus in the country has been immensely adverse with more than 17.822 reported cases and 269 deaths till May 13.
In order to contain the virus, on March 23, the government announced general holidays in the country, which has been extended a few times and shall continue till May 30.
Although the situation would have been worse if the country had not been on general holidays, however it should not be forgotten that the extended holidays have hit the economy hard, which is now moving towards a crisis.
Most businesses, except for those offering essential services and products, are closed amid the imposed holidays.
The continuous extension of holidays and the potential adverse aftermaths of Covid-19 has prompted many businesses to completely shut down or lay-off/retrench its employees as they are struggling to sustain. This is the scene for businesses of all sectors.
However, some other businesses have been able to convert the crisis into opportunity and thrive. Companies offering services using digital and technological platforms have experienced a surge in customer base.
For example, streaming service providers like Netflix are experiencing record business growth fuelled largely by the coronavirus crisis.
While the pandemic has put pressure on consumers to reduce non-essential spending, it has also left people with more time and fewer leisure options.
Other organisations are developing their businesses by shifting to digitalised platforms or by expanding their range of services. For instance, Pathao has recently started offering grocery and pharmaceutical delivery services. Earlier, people rarely availed such services but now these services are in high demand due to the crisis. There has also been an increase in the use of mobile banking as well.
While it has been easier for many companies to go digital, some are overwhelmed because they will have to revamp their entire digital approach and are struggling as they do not know how to implement a transformation.
These organisations are tackling the crisis by collaborating with each other. For example, charity organisations are partnering with food delivery and ride sharing services like foodpanda, Ak Takai Ahar and Pathao to make it easier for people to make donations for the underprivileged.
In addition to using digital means for offering services, companies are carrying out their internal activities through the same platform. Most companies have adopted a work-from-policy and are using virtual programmes to track performances of the employees. In addition, they are also hosting meetings and conferences through online applications.
The education and healthcare sectors are also operating through virtual means. Almost every educational institution including school and universities are hosting online classes and conducting online assessments.
Due to travel restrictions, people are unable to make hospital visits and thus doctors have opted to skype and other online means to offer consultancy services to their patients. The same is being followed by the legal professionals, who are offering their services through online platforms.
Even the courts in Bangladesh have launched virtual courts on limited scale. The move came earlier this week since protection of law and access to justice are fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh. The suspension of the courts proceedings owing to the Covid-19 pandemic had suspended the execution of the fundamental rights.
As a matter of fact, people are shaping their lives around the digital services. Social gatherings and family meetings are also taking place online. People have become more active on social media as they are using such platforms to share updates of their lives. Furthermore, they are relying on mobile financial services and bank transfer mediums to pay bills and transfer money from one account to another.
The pandemic has significantly accelerated our progress towards becoming a digital Bangladesh, which is a goal the incumbent government has set to achieve by 2021.
The government offices and operations are carried out digitally and government organisations are hosting meetings online. Nevertheless, government services are yet to be fully accessible online.
A prime example is the gas supply. Although the government has introduced prepaid-card system to avail gas supply, people are still required to go to government agents or representatives to avail it.
In this time of crisis, when people are mostly at home, use of gas will be at its peak and it should have been made accessible for people to pay gas bills online or through their mobile phones.
Additionally, although government organisations such as the Department of Patent, Design and Trademark (DPDT), Registrar of Joint Stock Companies & Firms (RJSC) and Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) have online facilities, physical presence is still essential to obtain services from them.
In a time where people are investing significant time and money on technological inventions to tackle the coronavirus, it is important to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect intellectual property.
The transition to digitalised platforms is certainly appreciable, but it must come from all spectrums of the economy players as imbalance could significantly hinder economic development.
Previously, we were taking baby steps towards digitalisation but now, the country has taken strides. The pandemic has been catastrophic for the entire world, but it has strengthened our resilience as we are evidently adapting to survive.
This article is co-authored by Barrister Arefin Ashraf Khan, Partner of Stellar Chambers and Barrister Mohammad Taqi Yasir, Associate of Stellar Chambers.