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Everything is definitely not under control

  • Published at 06:00 pm April 1st, 2020
Let’s not underestimate the risks Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

We need action from our politicians, not baseless reassurances

Can you find a single country that is not at risk from the Covid-19 pandemic? You could spend days, weeks, or even months thinking about it but you would not essentially find a plausible answer to it. Coronavirus has been declared a global health crisis, killing over 43,000 people worldwide. Experts believe it can turn into a devastating economic fallout for Bangladesh within a few months. 

Although Bangladesh did not encounter many challenges four months ago when the outbreak of the pandemic began, it is paying the price now, owing to us not being vigilant since the beginning, particularly regarding returnees from China, Italy, and other countries.

No one cared when thermal scanners in the airports were out of order. This resulted in no social distance maintenance with the returnees, and that triggered the spread of coronavirus in Bangladesh.  

Despite the fact that Bangladesh is slowly awakening from the lessons of this month, our government still seems unprepared for the economic damage the country is likely to encounter a few months down the track, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Think-tanks assume if this pandemic goes on spreading the growing uncertainty for a few more months, Bangladesh is poised to be severely affected economically. 

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimated that Bangladesh will lose about 1.1% of its GDP in the worst case scenario -- when the outbreak lasts at least for six months.

It implies that coronavirus can take away $3.02 billion from Bangladesh’s economy. 

Let us consider the medical system in Bangladesh, that seems thoroughly unprepared to provide treatment for coronavirus, simply because it lacks enough resources to ensure treatment for all.

A country like Bangladesh where over 160 million people live could not make 10 testing centres available even if it has been a number of months running since the epidemic began? And surely early diagnosis is essential to providing effective treatment?

 A young Bangladeshi returnee from Canada, Nazma Amin, an undergraduate student of business, died on March 14 due to the negligence of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) doctors. Her father claimed, “The doctors’ inattention derived from their suspicion that the patient had been infected with coronavirus though she was suffering from gastrointestinal complications.” 

According to Jamuna TV, 200 intern doctors have quit working just because they are yet to be provided with the protective masks, gowns, and other commodities to serve the patients.

When doctors are not secure, it is not unusual for them to be reluctant to approach the patients. 

This shallow medical preparation stimulates the economic damage because factories and offices will lose productivity once more, and more people are being infected with the virus and poor medical systems further accelerate the spread of it. Consequently, a financial breakdown is not far away if it goes on. 

The whole world is under immense shortage of supply chains; and so is Bangladesh, and that eventually increases the likelihood of extreme economic crisis in Bangladesh within a few months. Bangladesh Garments Accessories and Packing Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGAPMEA) President Abdul Kader Khan said: “If this critical situation exists for 6 months, Bangladesh will lose Tk1,500 crore.”

According to Bangladesh Bank data in FY-2018-10 Bangladesh imported goods worth $13.64 billion from China, the highest amount of import from any country.

Over 40% textile and textile related goods and 30 % capital machinery are from China, Abdul Kader Khan added. So this is well-assumed that Bangladesh could face unexpected ramification.  

Looking at the global scenario, we can figure out that the rest of the world is also heavily reliant on China for supply chains. Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said: “I am concerned about the supply chain; China has the company’s largest number of employees after Germany: we rely on China for parts and raw materials.” 

“That tiny valve which is inside a motor that you are searching for in your US-made product is made in China; so are the rare earth elements you require to manufacture magnets and electronics, thereby almost all the countries rely on parts from China, and shortages are eminent,” said the executive director of the Reshoring Institute. Mostafa Kamal, a software engineer of Berger Paints Bangladesh explains: “From iPhones to LCD televisions, much of the world’s consumer technology is either made in China, or depends on parts made there; Bangladeshi electrical and electronics market is no exception.” 

What is worse is that the driving force of Bangladesh’s economy, the RMG sector, is thought to be at the peak of risk due to this ongoing microscopic virus, pushing Bangladesh economy down. It goes without saying that China is the largest market for Bangladesh RMG in South Asia. Bangladesh Bank data suggests that in FY-2018-19 Bangladesh exported products worth $813 million to China. 

BGMEA President Dr Rubana Huq said: “Coronavirus crisis has become a huge concern for the textiles and RMG industries in Bangladesh since we source a significant amount of our raw materials from China.” 

BGMEA reveals that apparel makers have faced order cancellation worth billions, which continues to rise. BKMEA First Vice President Mohammad Hatem added: “C&A alone has cancelled work orders worth $15 million.” Experts predict that further deterioration may lead to huge economic downturn for Bangladesh in coming days. 

A research conducted by The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) unearths that RMG contributed 11.17 % of total GDP in FY2017-18. It also reveals that RMG employs more than four million people in Bangladesh. Because all countries have imposed a travel ban and people in most of the countries are in lockdown while following stay-at-home policy, orders are being cancelled more frequently than ever before. As a result, jobless people are projected to increase, which, in turn, could push Bangladesh into a major economic downfall. 

It is to be noted that Bangladesh earns a fair share of money from tourism. Coronavirus, however, stops all the tourists from visiting some of our picturesque tourist spots, like Cox’s Bazar, Sajek, St Martin, Chittagong Hill Tracts, Shalban Bihar and Shahjalal Majhar etc. According to the Ministry of Tourism, 27 million tourists visited Bangladesh in 2018. It showed an upward trend in the subsequent year. 

As travel bans are in progress throughout the world, tourist spots are taking a full rest. Bangladesh has already imposed a comprehensive travel ban. Doubtlessly, Bangladesh is being deprived of a huge amount of money coming from the tourists, combined with the opportunity to represent the culture and customs of this country before visitors coming from overseas. 

On top of it, with Bangladesh depending tremendously on remittances from overseas, it is conspicuous that coronavirus outbreak may have serious consequence. The United Nations Conference on trade and Development (UNCTAD) projects a shortfall of $2 trillion in global income. It is also thought that this adversity could take away 894,930 jobs.

Bangladesh’s economy is associated with the global economy, since countries like Canada, the US, and the European Union are major export destination for Bangladesh. From that standpoint, Bangladesh is on the brink on dramatic economic shortfall not because of lack of international tourists, but because of the vulnerable global economy. 

What could help Bangladesh to get over this critical period? Nothing but a concrete plan, followed by actions -- instead of whimsical consolatory words coming from government officials.

Bangladesh does not have to reinvent the wheel. By following China, it can greatly ease the impact of Covid-19. Nobody on the frontline should be constrained by a lack of funds. Hospital intensive care units must be built; and respirators, protective gear and masks be mass-produced and made available to all who need them. 

A report published on March 18 said that no private hospitals were allowed to test for coronavirus. Where India, Pakistan, and other countries have allowed private hospitals to do the tests, Bangladesh is going against the trend, putting millions of lives at high risk. 

The authorities have unequivocally made a great mistake by paying almost no attention to returnees from several countries, let alone getting them to be self-quarantined. When thermal scanners were out of order at the airports, no one bothered repairing them until it was too late.

Most importantly, taking the population of Bangladesh into account, our government should consider allowing private hospitals to be actively involved in the testing program. The identification of each case can save multiple lives. 

As it stands now, this crisis period necessitates strong actions by the government in order to tackle health and economic crises resulting from coronavirus. The cooperation of the people is also essential; hygiene is the order of the day. Michael Jordan said: “Talent wins games but teamwork wins championships.” 

Stay united, stand beside each other, and support the government to minimize the health, economic, and social impacts of the virus. 

Mahde Hassan is an invigilator at the British Council Bangladesh.