A hard lockdown on all social, economic and industrial activities is required to bring down the rising number of coronavirus cases in Bangladesh and mitigate the risk to public health, according to various experts and industry leaders.
“The priority should be to save lives. Then comes the concerns on business and economic activities, GDP growth and fiscal budget deficits,” said Nihad Kabir, president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).
Kabir made these comments while addressing a virtual dialogue styled, ‘COVID-19: lockdown exit strategy framework for Bangladesh’, organised by Resurgent Bangladesh.
The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), MCCI, the Chittagong Stock Exchange, BUILD, and Policy Exchange formed this platform, which will organise several dialogues on the coronavirus issue before preparing a final assessment in August.
“We should give importance to lowering the risk of a mass outbreak, producing essential goods and services and resuming economic activities by enabling both supply and demand,” Kabir said.
If economic activities were resumed in areas where the pandemic has had less of an impact, then it could gradually reduce the coronavirus fallout on health and the economy.
“So, the government’s zoning system will be useful if we reopen our businesses gradually following the shutdown,” the MCCI president added.
The government recently took the initiative to map out areas of the country into red, blue and green zones depending on the frequency of coronavirus infections.
“To spare those who have yet to become infected, the shutdown should end in phases,” said former DCCI President Abul Kasem Khan.
There is no specific solution to end the pandemic though, so plans should be made in a way that avoids the loss of life and protects the economy.
Information on infection rates and forecasts on the coronavirus fallout should be shared so that business people can make the right decision based on the information available.
“However, some losses will still occur and that should be kept in mind when ending the shutdown,” Khan said.
Riaz Hamidullah, former high commissioner of Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, recently explained the island nation’s model for combating the pandemic while keeping risks to both health and the economy in check.
First, the Sri Lankan government ensured that there would be coordination among the concerned ministries while making and implementing policies.
The country then reopened on a limited scale after assessing the situation before eventually fully ending the lockdown.
The COVID-19 outbreak in Bangladesh became severe due to a lack of coordination among the different government bodies during the decision-making process, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute.
Reliable and up-to-date data on the country’s coronavirus infection rates are needed to help the government make a proper plan on resuming economic activities, he added.
“The government and the private sector need to work together if any plan is to be successfully implemented,” said Mohammad Shahidul Haque, a former secretary to the Bangladesh government.
The coronavirus situation in the country needs to be brought under control so that the economy can recover. But considering the impact the lockdown has had on people with low-incomes, the government elected to end the nationwide ‘general holiday’, he added.
Besides, if employers begin to terminate their workers in a bid to control their losses, it would hurt the economy, said Md. Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, former chairman of the National Board of Revenue.
Bangladesh endured losses of up to Tk 3,300 crore for each day of the lockdown, said M. Masrur Reaz, chairman of Policy Exchange, while presenting his keynote speech during the dialogue.
The country’s export revenue may come down to $28 billion as major export destinations such as the EU and the US will have negative economic growth rates due to the coronavirus fallout.
Even remittance may decrease by as much as 7 per cent while the budget deficit could be 7.7 per cent, Reaz said.
“However, this is not the time to raise questions on the fiscal deficit as maintaining a stable economy should be given importance,” he added.
DCCI President Shams Ahmed and former DCCI president Asif Ibrahim were present, among others, during the dialogue.