With the government announcing restrictions on businesses and people's movements to curb the spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, speakers at a discussion yesterday urged for a balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
In a virtual discussion organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue, speakers also said curbing the spread of thevirus would be easier if people of the community were engaged in the efforts.
"Our experience is that maintaining health safety guidelines is not possible by keeping everything open… But the economy is the issue… Keeping everything in mind, we have to set a fiscal policy for everyone," Dr Mustafizur Rahman, distinguish fellow of the CPD, said at the discussion.
He said weaknesses in maintaining health safety guidelines were observed from both the government and the people during more than a year of living amid the pandemic.
"If we can give financial support to people, we could enforce this circuit-breaker [lockdown] strictly. But we have no such fiscal policy."
In the dialogue conducted by CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun, epidemiologists, business leaders, workers' representatives and other experts spoke on ways to simultaneously safeguard health and the economy during the pandemic.
Dr Mushtuq Hussain, consultant of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), said, "If infected people are treated timely, they will not infect others and [that] will reduce deaths."
At the same time, different approach-based initiatives, including community-level supervision, should be taken to check the virus transmission, he said.
"Our objective is to reduce transmission; not shutting down everything."
Saying the latest surge in Covid-19 infection was a consequence of not following health rules in January and February, the epidemiologist said, "The government's current initiatives will have a positive outcome for sure. But there is a need to increase [the number of Covid-19] tests."
He suggested building community isolation centres that can be operated with the help of patients' relatives.
Dr ASM Alamgir, principle scientific officer at the IEDCR, queried why the government has to do everything.
"To reduce transmission, community organisations and capable persons have to come forward willingly," he said.
He said it has been observed globally that transmission has been spread from mass gatherings.
"Closing tourism spots, shutting down inter district traffic movement were urgent and those have been done," he added.
He also said wearing masks and maintaining other health safety guidelines is more important than the Covid-19 variants or vaccine coverage.
"If we wear masks correctly, we will get 80 percent protection. So, we have to adhere to health safety guidelines," he said. "Bringing a big number of people under vaccine coverage is not easy."
He said that the government is going to announce an open tender to procure Covid-19 vaccines.
Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, member of parliament and RMG industry leader, stressed on supporting people and daily earners who have lost jobs due to the first lockdown last year and also those who may incur losses in the upcoming lockdown from tomorrow.
"A notable number of businesses have already vanished due to the pandemic. But it is important that employees get compensation as per law. The government has a fund of Tk 100 crore which can be used to directly support the workers and employees in case of losses," Mohiuddin said.
"We have to learn how to live with this pandemic… We have to place importance on awareness instead of panicking; we have to ensure that no one can increase prices of life-saving drugs and other products illogically," he said.
Faruque Hassan, president-elect of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said keeping garment factories open were important both for the economy and preventing virus transmission as in case of closure workers would go back to their home districts, risking further spread.
He claimed that his organisation has ensured that health safety guidelines are being maintained properly in the factories.
"Our 10 field-level monitoring teams and a third-party team in each factory are enforcing health safety guidelines," he said.
About workers' Eid bonuses and wages, he said, "We will try to ensure every factory will give proper wages and bonuses by keeping factoriesopen."
Taslima Akter, activist and photographer, however, disagreed with the BGMEA chief saying the number of Covid-19 tests is too little compared to the 40 lakh RMG workers.
Md Helal Uddin, president, National Association of Shop Owners in Bangladesh, said, "Poor businessmen are facing a difficult situation. So, we have to consider whether there is any scope to keep businesses open during the Ramadan."
Meanwhile, in a separate virtual discussion, organised by Bangladesh Health Watch, speakers stressed on taking measures based on the suggestions of epidemiologists.
Dr AM Zakir Hussain, member of Working Group of Bangladesh Health Watch, in his keynote speech, spoke of some key issues regarding Covid-19 management.
He said there is an absence of epidemiologists or public health experts in the national technical advisory committee while a lack of coordination between bureaucrats and the committee, ineffective communication strategies and short-sighted national level decision are barriers to fighting the virus.