“The world is already battling climate change. Now, the coronavirus is challenging our existence.”
Describing the coronavirus pandemic as the crisis of the century, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has underscored collective responsibility and partnership to fight the virus and its impact on economies across the world.
“The world is perhaps facing the biggest crisis in the last 100 years. So, we need to face the crisis together. We need an approach of collective responsibility and partnership from every society,” she said on Thursday.
Her call came while addressing a virtual conference by the World Economic Forum (WEF) titled ‘Enhancing regional cooperation in South Asia to combat Covid-19 related impact on its economies’.
“We don't know how long the pandemic will persist. It has already affected the economies. We need to bring economy, business and society on track; support people to get over trauma and fear, and revive vital sectors,” the prime minister said.
The conference opened with welcome remarks by WEF President Borge Brende followed by Hasina’s opening remarks styled ‘Bangladesh-Building Regional Resilience to fight COVID-19’.
World Health Organization South-East Asia Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh briefed the conference over the current situation while Arnaud Bernaert, head of WEF’s Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, shared insights.
The world is already battling climate change, said Prime Minister Hasina before adding: “Now, coronavirus is challenging our existence. At the current level of globalization, insulating one country from the rest of the World is not possible and isolation policy will not work anymore.”
Five proposals to overcome the “complex scenario”
The world will need new thinking on human well-being, tackling inequality, supporting poor and getting back economies to pre-Covid levels as poverty and inequality within and among societies will rise rapidly, she said. “In the last one decade, we lifted half of our poor out of poverty. Many of them may now slide back.”
Underscoring the need for robust leadership from G7, G20 and OECD, Hasina said, “The UN-led multilateral system should step forward. I must commend Prof Schwab for identifying infectious diseases as a key risk in the 2020 Global Risks Report. So, the forum and UN should mobilize and lead governments and global businesses on focused policy discourse. I would be happy to join any such initiative.”
A transformation in global businesses, work and manufacturing is being seen, said Hasina before adding new norms, standards and practices will emerge in the post-Covid times. “We’ve already seen many global brands within supply chains are not acting responsibly. So, we need to devise strategies and practical support measures so that countries like Bangladesh can adapt,” said the prime minister
Migrant workers across the world are now in difficult times with many of them left without jobs leaving South Asian economies at risk, according to Hasina. “So, we need a meaningful global strategy to share the burden and responsibilities,” she added.
Focusing on the effective use of technologies, like artificial intelligence and mobile phones to trace infections, Hasina said, “To better prepare for the future, we can fast develop innovative solutions in various sectors.”
“Bangladesh facing twin shock”
A developing country like Bangladesh is facing twin shock— both in supply and demand fronts— due to Covid-19 pandemic, said the prime minister before highlighting measures taken by her administration to cushion it.
Stimulus packages of $11.60 billion, equivalent to 3.5% of the GDP, for various sectors focusing mainly on manufacturing, service, agriculture, and social safety net, she said.
As of now, Bangladesh has sufficient food stock, but ensuring food security in case of a prolonged crisis will be a big challenge for South Asia countries, according to Hasina.
The supply chain of agro products in Bangladesh has been severely disrupted due to the shutdown to stem the spread of the virus, she said before adding that around $3 billion has been set aside for agriculture.
Hasina said her administration’s policy focused on ensuring the GDP growth momentum by gearing up domestic demand, enhanced competitiveness, and poverty eradication.
The key interventions to achieve that are increasing public expenditure and money supply, introducing fiscal packages and expanding the coverage of social safety net schemes.
Bangladesh reported its first coronavirus cases on March 8 but adopted measures in early January to prevent the spread of virus, according to Hasina.
The ongoing 41-day general holiday has brought almost three-fourth of the country under lockdown, the PM said.
“The measures could keep the fatalities low with 127 deaths and 4,186 infections in Bangladesh in the last 47 days,” said Hasina before adding that the entire world was fighting against the invisible and unknown enemy, the Covid-19.