1. Early responses and containment
- In February, the Bangladeshi government started screening at air and land ports, and set up quarantine facilities in the adjacent areas.
- In March, after the first case was detected, all education institutions were closed.
- In March, a “Public Holiday” – a de facto lockdown – was announced with a strategy to avoid an internal migration crisis.
- In April, as a rapid measure, 31 essential executive directives on health protocols, awareness-building, food security and community market regulation were issued.
- In October, based on the risk of a winter resurgence, the Bangladesh government adopted the “no mask, no service” policy at all offices and service points to contain the spread.
2. Health sector responses
- The government’s health service agency, the Directorate General of Health Services, has been entrusted with the mandate of institutional regulation on covid-19 testing issues.
- To ensure equal access, it has been decided to provide testing services that are subsidised and free of cost.
- In April, isolation centres were prepared in all public hospitals in the country. Additional, 601 institutional quarantine facilities were set up.
- In April, a publicly financed research institute for epidemiological and communicable diseases, the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, was equipped to offer health advice to the public as an emergency measure.
- The government has launched the www.corona.gov.bd web platform, which has gone on to become the go-to-point for data on the covid-19 situation in Bangladesh.
- In April, to incentivise health sector professionals, the government decided to provide health insurance and other incentive packages to workers in high-risk situations. This was an innovative measure that has been replicated outside of Bangladesh.
- In April, a national technical advisory committee of epidemiologists and other experts was formed to support the government to deal with the pandemic.
- In June, the annual fiscal allocation in the health sector rose by 29%, the highest among the major sectors, for the upcoming fiscal year 2020/21. This represented a major policy shift from a resource mobilisation perspective.
- A budgetary contingency fund of USD 1 billion has been set aside to address pandemic-related emergencies.
3. Economic safeguards
- Since March, immediately after the announcement of movement restrictions, a series of thematic and sectoral “stimulus packages” has been put in place. The first of these was introduced on 25 March soon after the country went into lockdown. The stimulus was of USD 14 billion, equal to 4.3% of gross domestic product. As a share of gross domestic product, this was at par with many comparator and regional countries. Major focuses were on the export-oriented industries, cottage-micro-small-medium enterprises and agriculture, along with monetary measures to increase cash flow in the economy.
- Under the stimulus credit schemes, enterprises could borrow at half-subsidised interest rates. The Central Bank eased borrowing regulations to ensure all enterprises could access working capital.
- The Central Bank took a number of swift policy decisions to support the banking sector, by reducing the bank rate, the basic rates (REPO and reverse REPO), the cash reserve ratio and the statutory liquidity ratio, providing longer-term REPO support and expanding the advance to deposit ratio.
4. Safety net expansion
- In April and May, to mitigate the crisis for the vulnerable population, Bangladesh launched a coordinated relief assistance programme to distribute food and cash aid to those on a low-income bracket, particularly those outside existing social security schemes.
- In May, the government expanded its previously piloted Open Market Sales scheme, a public subsidised food selling programme, to ensure food security for the low-income population.
- In May, a digital one-off cash distribution programme was launched using the platform of mobile financial services.
- Certain targeted social protection initiatives, such as Vulnerable Group Development, Vulnerable Group Feeding and the rice and medicines distribution programmes, have been revamped.
5. Sustaining agriculture
- In April, a stimulus allocation of USD 509 million to the agriculture sector was packaged to boost production and offset the impact of price hikes. This also had the aim of supporting harvesting labourers and enhancing farm mechanisation.
- To ensure food security during the pandemic, interventions have been implemented in the supply chain. A mega procurement plan to buy eight key essential goods from the domestic and international markets has been approved. Existing public procurement of food grains has been expanded significantly.
6. Protecting the Rohingyas
- In March, the refugee protection authority, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, suspended all activities except for essential services in the world’s largest refugee settlements – the 34 Rohingya camps in south-eastern Bangladesh.
- The government and UN agencies have prepared a scaled-up covid-19 preparedness and response plan for both the Rohingyas and host communities.
Photo ©️ Mahmud Hossain Opu