Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. The outbreak of Coronavirus disease has created a global health crisis that has had a deep impact on the way we perceive our world and our everyday lives. With the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus declared a pandemic and international public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) the entire world is working to address it.
After the first emergence of the virus in December 2019, nearly two million people in 185 countries around the globe have been identified as confirmed cases of Coronavirus disease 2019. Many countries are adopting preventive measures, remote office activities, international travel bans, mandatory lockdown, and social standing. Bangladesh, an l lower middle-income country and one of the world’s most densely populated areas, is struggling to combat the spread of the disease. In this write-up, I discuss the impact of Coronavirus in our country and the role of local government during COVID-19.
Background Of COVID-19
A novel strain of coronavirus was first detected in December 2019 in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei Province with a population of 11 million, after an outbreak of pneumonia without an obvious cause. The virus has now spread to over 200 countries and territories across the globe and was characterized as a pandemic by World Health Organization(WHO) on 11 March 2020. The virus has struck with unprecedented scale and force. Educational Institutions, shops, restaurants, recreational facilities, and money others closed for months and more. Our lives have almost come to a halt. By the time infection began to soar at an exponential rate, most affected countries found themselves severely short of test kits, masks, ventilators, and other necessary medical supplies including personal protective equipment. In fact governments and healthcare systems almost in all affected countries are caught short-handed.
The Outbreak Of COVID-19 In Bangladesh
The COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh is part of the worldwide pandemic of Coronavirus disease 2019 caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus2(SARS-COV-2). The virus was confirmed to have spread to Bangladesh in March 2020. The first three known cases were reported on 8 March 2020 by the country’s epidemiology institute, IEDCR. Since then the pandemic has spread day by day across the whole nation and the number of affected people has been increasing. Bangladesh is the second most affected country in South Asia after India. In order to protect the population, the government declared ‘lockdown’ throughout the nation and prepared some necessary steps to spread awareness to keep this syndrome away from them.
Bangladesh’s Response To COVID-19
With almost every country adopting aggressive non-therapeutic measures to control the spread of coronavirus, Bangladesh has followed the same trend that other affected countries did. However, there is an ongoing debate as to whether measures have been adopted adequately and implemented efficiently. Bangladesh took many preventive measures which include travel bans, remote office activities, country lockdown, and most importantly social distancing. However, these measures face challenges in Bangladesh, a lower-middle-income economy with one of the world’s densest populations. Social distancing is difficult in many areas of the country and with the minimal resources the country has, it would be extremely challenging to implement the mitigation measures. Mobile sanitization facilities and temporary quarantine sites and healthcare facilities could help mitigate the impact of the pandemic at a local level. A prompt, supportive, and empathic collaboration between the government, citizens, and health experts along with international assistance, can enable the country to minimize the impact of Coronavirus.
Government’s Response To COVID-19:
The government of Bangladesh has taken different initiatives to control the outbreak of coronavirus. In response to COVID-19 on March 16, 2020, the government declared the closure of all educational institutions. To avoid mass gatherings to prevent the spread of Coronavirus in the country, In March 2020, the government prohibited political and religious rallies; social and cultural gatherings; and on March 21, 2020, canceled all state public programs and events, including the celebration of the Independence Day. All public and private offices remained closed from March 26, 2020, except for emergency services; the government stopped public transportation and limited banking service also on April 12, 2020. It was informed that all on-arrival visas remain suspended till the next notification wherein the foreigners’ visas arrive in Bangladesh from any Coronavirus-affected country.
Non-Government’s Response To COVID-19
Besides the government, some nongovernment organizations, businessmen, politicians as well as social workers are found to provide food and other aids to the poor workless people during the lockdown. Bashundhara Group, the most prominent and the largest business group of the country has already built a large 2000 bedded hospital with the permission of the government of Bangladesh for the treatment of COVID-19 patients at Bashundhara residential area at their own cost and management. They are also providing masks and PPE to the hospitals and to the government and non-government institutions that are rendering services during the lockdown. Some other businessmen were also found to provide donations to the office of the prime minister of Bangladesh.
The Impact Of COVID-19 In Bangladesh: Bangladesh is a densely populated country with 170 million people. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has impacted every segment of life like commercial Establishment, education, economy, religion, transport, tourism, employment, entertainment, food security, sports, etc. The outbreak is a major destabilizing threat to the global economy. The impact of Coronavirus in Bangladesh is not different from other affected countries. Its impact has been broad, affecting Bangladesh’s economy, education, culture, politics, and other areas.
The impact of Coronavirus on the economy is discussed below
Impact On Economy: The wheel of the economy of the country is turned to be almost stopped. The garment industries, mills, factories, poultry and dairy farms, shopping centers, etc are under lockdown due to maintaining social distancing. The government has already declared a stimulus package for the garments industries as well as for some other sectors so that the economy of the country may be reshaped in its own position. The government has relaxed the lockdown on some garment industries, markets, and shopping centers and allowed them to run. Their business keeps the social distance. On the other hand, remittances are one of the greatest sources of the economy of this country. As most of the workers have to return from abroad, this source of income has already been reduced to a great extent. However, the government is trying to keep running the economy of the country.
The Role Of Local Government During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been most acutely felting at the local level. That is also where response and recovery efforts have been most critical. When a disaster strikes, its impacts and effects are most acutely felt at the local level. COVID-19 has been no exception as cities have been at the forefront of combating the pandemic’s spread and impact. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many public in rural and urban areas became workless, they lost their earning source, and they had faced many challenges in their lives. As the source of income for the majority of rural workers and farmers were affected, they were asked the state the type of support they required. Here most of the workless people mentioned that they required free food and medicines as survival was at a stake for many of them. Thinking about them the government took some initiatives like providing food relief, selling rice at Rs 10 per kg, provide five million poor families with a cash handout of US $30 each through mobile financial services like Bkash, Rocket. The government selected these beneficiaries with the help of the local government.
Local governments were responsible for implementing the initiatives taken by the government and extending all kinds of assistance to the people who need it. The local government helped deliver food relief, providing the money given by the government and distributing masks, sanitizers among the public. The local government also took some initiatives for spreading awareness in their area. The local government dictated the foreigners to remain in quarantine for two weeks came from affected countries. The local government was playing an important role in implementing the initiatives taken by the government. The collaboration of government and local government’s activities helped to solve the problems of the people of the rural and urban areas.
Criticism Of Local Government’s Activities: The initiatives taken by the government for the public during the COVID-19 period are really commendable. But corruption and insufficiency have heavily undermined the government’s effort to deliver stimulus-cash-food support packages for the pandemic victims. The government designed national-level responses to COVID-19, the role of local government was pivotal in ensuring implementation. But it is a matter of sorrow that some dishonest local leaders have misused these initiatives without implementing them. Did not distribute food relief, cash to the victim people properly.
It found that a tendency to serve personal interests through irregularities in relief and incentive programs, depriving the real affected family at the field level. The government selected the beneficiaries with the help of local administration and elected representatives. But the selection process was not transparent and some followers of the ruling political party belonging to the middle class also received payments. Each affected family, who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the system, had to pay an average bribe of TK 220 to get cash assistance of TK 2500 announced by the government.
More than 12% of beneficiaries have been victims of irregularities and corruption while enlisting for cash assistance. Vested quarters include the names of around 3,000 government employees and 7,000 pensioners in the cash incentives list. Besides, 300,000 names were included more than once. On the other hand, law enforcers and local administrations have so far revealed at least 22 incidents of stealing rice in 20 Upazilas and recovered 2,832 sacks of rice, each containing 50 kg. Police have so far arrested 24 people including 10 public representatives in connection with those incidents.
How Should Respond Government: Some regrettable politics is taking place in the name of distribution of relief for the poor. Firstly, the government has not provided a strong and adequate stimulus package to help the poor fight the epidemic. Secondly even where it has sanctioned relief materials, only those who are well connected to the powerful local leaders. Many of them have already been arrested for this crime as well.
This is a matter of great disgust. We have seen some government officials getting punishment for stealing relief, but this is not enough. If the government can really bring all the wrongdoers to book for stealing relief goods along with those who fail to adequately distribute relief in their area, that would be a great step forward. The relief materials need to be distributed properly, without scope for stealing or wasting otherwise by only distributing to the well connected. Even the amount that the government can do in this crisis is limited. As such it is necessary for a comprehensive plan of action so that we make proper use of the resources we have.
The relief distribution needs to be need-based. Even the middle class and lower-middle-class people, who are too shy to ask for help in these dire times, need to be paid attention to and brought under the social safety net through relief operations that transcend the lower classes and access the middle class. This is how it should be done, but they’re also needs to be a comprehensive plan to tackle this crisis in the medium term if we are to come out of the crisis anytime soon. Without that sort of comprehensive planning, it will be hard for us to spring out of this disaster strong.
Local governments are at the frontline of COVID-19 response. Using their unique position in the community they can mobilize local initiatives, coordinate and implement national response plans and ensure the smooth continuity of service delivery, especially for the community’s most vulnerable members. In fact, local governments are responsible for implementing all the initiatives taken by the government. Citizens elect their representatives and expect many kinds of help from them in their need. That’s why people in rural and urban areas rely on local governments. The government will not be able to mitigate the pandemic situation alone; individual effort from the citizens, direct involvement of the local government can help to face all challenges in the country in any kind of situation.