HPM Sheikh Hasina on the Driving Seat


Bangladesh has been facing the COVID-19 outbreak under the leadership of HPM Sheikh Hasina. With a view to tackle the COVID-19 impact on Bangladesh, HPM Sheikh Hasina came up with special directives, policy actions and a series of multi-sectoral fiscal measures. Moreover, government has been continuing emergency relief and expanding social safety programs to facilitate the low-income segment of the population. This bulletin is CRI’s effort to communicate Bangladesh’s story in dealing COVID-19 outbreak with farsighted policy measures and actions.


Special Directives and Strategic Plan by HPM Sheikh Hasina


As soon as the pandemic hit Bangladesh, HPM Sheikh Hasina came up with a 31-points directives. The directives were for both health professionals and general people. The civil and military administration, law enforcement agencies ought to enforce physical distancing and nationwide lockdown. HPM stressed on following Standing Orders on Disasters (SOD) -  the national disaster management protocol. On relief, the directive was to strategically conduct relief works by focusing on underprivileged people. She directed the farmers to continue food production. Moreover, HPM Sheikh Hasina announced a 4-points strategic plan geared towards economic impact. The programs are: increasing public expenditure, introducing fiscal packages, expanding social safety net programs and increasing monetary supply. Government is increasing public expenditure eyeing increased employment generation. Government is also expanding social safety net coverage to ensure fundamental necessity of the people.


HPM Sheikh Hasina Calls for Collective Responsibility


Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her article published in World Economic Forum’s website, floated a five-point proposal to minimize the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. First, the world will need new thinking on human well-being, tackling inequality, supporting poor and getting back our economies to pre-COVID levels, she said. Next, she emphasized a “robust” global leadership from G7, G20 and OECD and UN-led multilateral system in the second point.  In her third point, she stressed on the need to devise strategies to adapt to new business norms. She underscored the need for a meaningful global compact to share burdens and responsibilities in her next point. In the fifth point, she stressed on the utilization of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies to better prepare for the future.  


Taming COVID-19: Rapid Public Health Measures


Covid-19 infected patients are receiving treatment in different government and private hospitals. Flu corners in separate wards have been set up in hospitals. Currently, there are 500 ventilators in government hospitals. Process to install 700 more ventilators and 100 ICU in these hospitals are underway. Government has prepared 601 places for institutional quarantine across the country. Around 30,000 people can receive quarantine service through these facilities. There are a total of 7,693 isolation beds in selected medical institutions in 8 divisions. Bangladesh government is also operating telephone hotlines to offer health advice. As of April 28, 2020, around 4,000 volunteer doctors are connected in this service. Around 3.5 million persons have received health advice and Covid-19 primary screening over hotlines since 8 March 2020. Currently, 17 laboratories in and outside Dhaka are operational for COVID-19 testing. To date, 3,625 doctors and 1,314 nurses have been trained on providing treatment to Covid-19 infected patients. With a view to incentivize the frontline fighters of COVID-19 outbreak, government will provide two months’ salary to health professionals. Health professionals will also get an insurance coverage up to BDT 1 million.


Stimulus Packages for Keeping the Economy Vibrant


To address the impact of COVID-19 outbreak on the economy, government allocated BDT 956.19 billion under a set of stimulus packages amounting to 3.3% of the GDP. The first of the fiscal packages, involving BDT 300 billion, will be provided to affected industries and service sector through banks as low-interest loans. Under the second package, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), would get BDT 200 billion working capital. The third package is for enhancing Bangladesh Bank's (BB) Export Development Fund from $3.5 billion to $5 billion to facilitate raw material import. Under the fourth package, BB will introduce a new credit facility of BDT 50 billion as ‘Pre-shipment Credit Refinance Scheme’. A BDT 50 billion incentive package is directed at paying the salaries of export-oriented industries.  Another BDT 50 billion has been allocated to agricultural sector. Government has already published guidelines to implement the stimulus packages to the agriculture sector, the cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises and export-oriented firms. 


Refinance Scheme for Low-income People


Bangladesh Bank has launched a BDT 30 billion refinance scheme for low-income people which would be disbursed through the microcredit entities, also known as non-government organizations (NGOs). Affected farmers and marginalized traders would also be eligible for the low-cost credit. Under the scheme, 75% fund must go to the low-income group professionals, farmers and micro businesses hard hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, while the rest 25% is reserved for small entrepreneurs. For an individual, the borrowing limit from NGOs has been set at BDT 75,000 and the limit for a group of at least 5 individuals at BDT 0.3 million. 


Agriculture and Food Security: Facilitating the Farmers


Bangladesh agriculture sector will receive BDT 50 billion crore exclusively for agriculture sector under the stimulus package announced by HPM Sheikh Hasina. Small and medium farmers in rural areas will reap the benefit of the package. Moreover, government has increased subsidy amount on fertilizers. This fiscal year subsidy amount stands at BDT 95 billion. Government has announced BDT 1.50 billion allocation for seeds and seedlings distribution. Government has also announced an immediate allocation of BDT 2 billion for harvest and farm mechanization during the current harvest season. Farmers of Haor region are entitled to 70% subsidy and farmers in other regions will receive 50% subsidy on the purchase of farm machinery. Farmers of 7 Haor region districts faced difficulty in harvesting due to migrant-labor shortage amid nationwide lockdown. Government directed to ensure normalcy in the transportation of agricultural goods and agricultural workers. 


Emergency Assistance Program Launched 


The government has launched a nation-wide general relief program amid the lockdown enforced by Coronavirus pandemic. So far, rice has been distributed to 6 million households and BDT 312.4 million cash has been transferred to 3.5 million households during the ongoing crisis. A total of 27.7 million people have been reached through the relief program. Under a new innovative scheme, 3.4 million families will receive direct one-off cash assistance. Moreover, the government will issue 5 million new ration cards to poor people in urban and rural areas allowing them to buy rice at a subsidized price. The card holders can buy rice at BDT 10 per kg (one-fourth of the market price) under a special Open Market Sale (OMS) scheme. Those not registered on any food aid program will now be eligible for the OMS scheme.