From a strictly economic angle, Bangladesh is now facing its worst crisis since the country picked up pace in its upward journey on the usual indices of growth and development. No business, in any sector, has been able to escape or can be expected to dodge the economic brunt of the crisis.
The plurality of the crisis poses unique challenges for policymakers. However, with the right resolve and timely manoeuvres, Bangladesh does not have a reason to lose itself in the waves of hysterical desperation.
The restrictions on trade, commerce, and human mobility; the partial or full shutdown of factories, social distancing measures, and institutional and self-quarantines are all necessary and standard protocols at the current stage of the crisis.
The government, despite being a little late in its response, did already implement these measures. Such interventions will help slow down the rate of contagion or flatten the curve.
However, panic, hysteria, and prejudice are dominating the healthcare sector and the total system is overcrowded now.
But the government intervention will buy time to better equip the system and prevent death from the coronavirus infection and other curable diseases caused by the deprivation from regular medical attention.
The government is mobilising all possible human resources – public, private, defence – in the fight against the virus. But it has to ramp up actions.
To build geographical and sectoral fences and to identify the hotspots, the government should amplify its ability to test more. It should engage and empower local communities across the country to create awareness and equip them with mobile testing facilities and report cases.
Only engaging state-affiliated representatives, without empowering the local community leaders, it is unlikely that the government will succeed in inculcating the moral values that are necessary for the religious observation of imposed restraints and the proper disbursement of any aid.
Also, at this stage, better access to data is the key to measuring the depth and the breadth of the problem that is likely to usurp the economic condition in the upcoming months. We should now plan for the post lockdown events that are likely to unfold if the virus is not tamed.
Bangladesh cannot afford lockdowns for much longer. Reports on the sufferings of people hanging on the lower rungs of the income ladder are already gaining significant traction in the social media and causing panic.
Despite the prime minister's warnings and her resolve to come down hard on corruption, we have witnessed corrupt acts of purloining of grains, lentils, and other necessities provisioned for the poor or sale at subsidised prices.
We seem to be suffering from pathological and chronic corruption. But empowering the community with direct access to higher government authority can play a major part in curbing the corruption level.
We should all understand that it is neither the responsibility nor the capacity of one individual, namely the prime minister, to provide a cure for every pervasive act of corruption.
We need an ideological change and should have a revised outlook on our lives. Maybe this crisis will enlighten all of us.
As things stand, it will be hard to lock the whole country down for much longer. We should be thinking of how we can restart certain activities in some low-infection regions with adequate precaution. And this raises the importance of data.
To reboot the economy from its current sleep mode, we need to have better access to information on infection levels, the magnitude of community transmission in particular localities, degree of community migration experienced during and after the contagion's peak period.
Compulsory measures such as regular temperature checks to protect returning workers will not identify asymptomatic carriers. But provision for safe transport, personal protective equipment and adequate distancing at the workplace, proper ventilation, entitlement to pay and healthcare and measures to identify and contain new infections must be designed thoroughly and imposed immediately.
Given the current state of business, it is also a ground reality that except for the large firms who enjoy higher profitability and possess a sense of responsibility towards the community, it will not be possible or will not be in the interest of most firms to tick every box in the checklist.
This only intensifies the importance of government surveillance over industries along with community awareness so that the industry insiders and major players do not consider government measures to be pervasive and antagonistic to the freedom of enterprise. The administrative structure to design these policies; analyse and approve reopening plans and facilitate the movement of the approved ones should be effective and quick.
Also, we need to ensure that the poor and non-salaried lower-middle-class, who are out of work now, can survive for long. The government can introduce direct transfers to households.
Even if the government undertakes such measure, it is unlikely to protect the entire population segment that falls under the poor criteria. Due to fiscal limitations, the magnitude and frequency of transfers might prove to be inadequate to protect a household for over a month. This is where the government and the local communities should work together.
The government should give the rich and benevolent in every community some sense of control so that they may come forward to the aid of the people in their vicinity and engage in altruistic behaviour.
It should coordinate and cooperate with the non-government and voluntary organisations to launch a more comprehensive effort to save the poor from hunger and death. Failure to do so might precipitate a revolt and people will defy the lockdown to get back to work if their existence is threatened.
The author Zulfiker Hyder is the founder of Rational Nudge