It seems like a paradox. Bangladesh lags behind advanced countries in terms of health care, social protection and overall governance – three main determinants found by a WHO study of Covid-19 strategies and their success.
Yet Bangladesh has performed better in fighting the pandemic than some advanced economies such as the UK, Germany, France and Italy – each of which has advanced levels of all three main determinants.
But Bangladesh has another magic: resilience of its people, a quality that always keeps them energised to face any natural or manmade disaster. That spirit keeps them afloat.
People in advanced economies were flooded with cash supplied by their governments to face the dark days of the pandemic as country after country closed their economies and borders. But people here were not to have that luxury.
When many western economies were facing labour shortage last year as people with abundant cashes refused to go to work under the shadow of the raging Covid-19, people here were working everywhere in full swing, keeping the wheels of the economy moving.
Bangladesh enjoys another blessing – a demographic dividend. Its vast majority of younger population were not as vulnerable as the ageing population in Europe.
So when the ageing people in those advanced economies were overwhelming their world class health care systems, doctors and nurses here were fighting to the best of their abilities with their poor health care infrastructures, thanks to its vast young population.
The lower death toll in Bangladesh remains the biggest evidence of the stunning success in fighting the pandemic.
Having a population of more than 17 crore, Bangladesh recorded little over 28,000 deaths from Covid-19 whereas the UK, Germany, France and Italy each logged more than one lakh deaths even though the population of each country is less than half that of Bangladesh. The recorded Covid death toll stands far lower than a prediction of early 2020 of 20 lakh deaths in Bangladesh.
The pace of our economic recovery is also faster than those of developed countries. Again, it is because of the resilient spirit of the people who are never averse to taking risks for their livelihoods. That spirit helped the country’s large informal economy to gather speed fast after lifting of the two shutdowns that had to be enforced.
Fear of the virus or lockdowns did not dampen the indomitable spirit of our farmers. They produced sufficient food grains for the 17-crore people allaying the fear of food shortage.
When white collar employees enjoyed the luxury of working from home during the shutdowns, farmers took care of their crops and lands and the apparel workers walked miles to join their work.
Bangladesh has set a record growth of export at the third quarter of last year banking on its apparel industries. Several million RMG workers, who never broke down against the virus, made it possible.
They were the people who did not wait for vaccines, who were often criticised for their carelessness with masks or forgetting about maintaining social distance.
There were gig workers who defied health risks and delivered goods at doorsteps during coronavirus curbs, keeping the supply chain moving.
Relentless services of these blue-collar workers have boosted Bangladesh’s recovery hopes in the New Year.
Millions of its people working thousands of miles away from their country have kept sending their hard earned remittance home. Their remittances boosted the reserve in Bangladesh Bank vaults and strengthened the external balance. But returning home from overseas workplaces amid the pandemic, they were slapped with quarantine and often unwelcomed as suspected carriers of the virus from abroad.
Their hard-earned currency enabled Bangladesh for the first time to become a foreign currency lender as it gave a $250 million loan to Sri Lanka in currency swap and responded positively to Maldives’ request for a $200 million loan.
This spirit of resilience has its roots in Bangladesh’s victory in the Liberation War half a century ago. Bangladesh’s birth through a bloodbath was instrumental behind, what eminent economist Prof Rehman Sobhan describes, the entrepreneurial revolution among its people.
In the words of another economist, Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, the country’s independence has transformed a people of “fatalistic mindset into an aspirational population”.
Behind these inspiring stories, there is a major determinant: leadership. That indomitable spirit of leadership in every sector led the way against Covid-19 and its fallout.
Bangladesh government was prompt to announce the first stimulus package in March 2020 in less than three weeks of the first Covid-19 case detected in the country. It was followed by a series of other stimulus packages covering most of the business sectors.
Getting access to vaccines was not an easy task. When advanced economies were booking billions of doses of vaccines in advance, here in Bangladesh, there was a growing scepticism about availability of vaccines in time.
The government policymakers did not stop trying. They had made all-out efforts to procure vaccines at all cost and prepared a well-thought-out vaccine master plan to administer targeted populations in a disciplined way with an app that ensured and eased a digital nationwide registration process.
Bangladesh was well ahead of many peer countries in succeeding to reach deals and started to get supplies of Covid-19 vaccines initially from India, thanks to the timely step taken by the top leadership. When India stopped supplies all of a sudden, the country lost no time to explore alternative sources like China. Steady supplies from the US, Europe and Asia, either as gifts or purchases, helped build confidence in the government’s mass vaccination drive.
The government now hopes to inoculate around 80% of the total population by April this year thanks to thousands of health workers and volunteers who have been efficiently running the campaign since early last year.
Bangladesh has so far purchased 21 crore doses of vaccines worth about Tk19,000 crore and expects 11 crore doses under Covax facility. So far over 6.82 crore doses of vaccine were administered as the first dose and over 4.56 crore doses were given as the second dose.
Meanwhile, the booster dose for the Omicron variation has already started with a plan to administer it in the first phase to frontline workers and senior citizens who received their second dose at least six months ago.
In April 2020, the World Bank said much of the pace of Bangladesh’s recovery would depend on how fast mass vaccination can be achieved. The progress so far made in vaccination has helped Bangladesh advance 18 rungs to rank 17th among 53 countries in the Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking for November, displaying the country’s strong resilience against the deadly virus.
In the latest Nikkei Covid-19 Recovery Index released earlier, Bangladesh beat other South Asian countries and ranked 14th globally.
Meanwhile, Covid death dropped to a single digit for quite some time, even zero death for two days at the end of last year. Though a few cases of Omicron have been detected, the new variant, which already put parts of Europe under lockdowns, has not yet appeared to be a great threat here.
Now it is time to see how the vaccination drive proceeds to keep Omicron in check as Bangladesh cannot afford further lockdowns.
The year 2021 started with vaccine despair. The New Year starts with hopes for full vaccination.
Stimulus package of more than a trillion taka, loan moratorium, tax breaks were among a series of fiscal and monetary policies to help the economy stride on for recovery. There was cash aid, though insufficient, for those who lost work in the informal sector.
The support measures yielded dividends, brightening economic prospects already reflected in revised forecasts by global agencies.
Two big crops, Boro and Aman, had bumper yields, ensuring future food security from local supplies. Imports posted an impressive rise, jumping over 50% in five months to November compared to a year-ago period and private sector credit growth crossed 10% for the first time in nearly two years, signalling an uptick in manufacturing activities in coming months.
All these are reasons to build hopes for an auspicious 2022 and it is the people who would never give up on materialising the hopes of smooth graduation from the LDC status by 2026 and gradually moving forward to an upper middle income and advanced country. They will do it as this is the spirit of “We the people of Bangladesh.”
Courtesy: The Business Standard