Under the prudent leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has been successful in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. How Bangladesh dealt with the challenges was reflected in December 2020 Bloomberg ranking, the country was ranked as one of the top 20 countries which fared well in tackling the challenges of the pandemic. Her government has been implementing a series of policy actions, special directives and multi-sectoral fiscal measures to tackle the health and the economic challenges. The country launched a vaccination program very early in comparison to many other countries by procuring Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines. During the second wave of the pandemic, the government continues to sustain the effective response made during the initial phase of the crisis. It continues to support vulnerable groups through social safety net. This bulletin highlights some of the farsighted Covid-19 policy actions adopted by Bangladesh.


HPM Hasina calls for strict compliance to Covid-19 health guidelines


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged all to strictly follow health guideline to face the Covid-19 pandemic’s ongoing second wave, simultaneously reassuring the nation that her government remained beside the people. “You have no reason to be panicked. The government always remains beside you,” she said on the eve of the Bengali New Year 1428. The Prime Minister assured the countrymen that all the target people would be brought under the vaccination program.


Nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive continues since February 7, 2021


  Bangladesh government started mass vaccination on February 7, 2021. Vaccine shots are being given in 1,015 hospitals and health centers across the country. A total of 7,344 teams of health workers and volunteers have been formed to continuously vaccinate people against the coronavirus. So far, 5,819,912 people have been vaccinated with the first dose across the country. Bangladesh is using the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine bought from the Serum Institute of India. According to the national vaccination plan, the government will inoculate 80 percent of the country's population. Currently government is in the process of finalizing deals to secure vaccine shots from China and Russia.


Bangladesh government enforces strict containment measures


On the wake of the second wave, the government imposed some stricter restrictions in line with expert opinions. In first week of April 2021, government enforced a nationwide “lockdown”, suspending public transport and shutting markets to combat the surge in the country. The lockdown is in effect till May 30. All public transport services (roads, river, railway and domestic flights) were suspended and only emergency services remained operational. International passenger flights to and from Bangladesh remained suspended from April 14 following government instruction. The government closed the border with India from April 26. Covid-19 negative certificate and two-week institutional quarantine are mandatory for people entering Bangladesh.


Mask-wearing in public is compulsory


The government has taken several policy actions to encourage the use of mask to reduce Covid-19 transmission. In May 2020, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) through a circular made it compulsory for all to wear masks outdoors. Later, the government adopted the “no mask, no service” policy at all offices and service points. Local level administrations have been taking measures including conducting mobile courts and awareness campaign to ensure use of masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.


Enhanced Covid-19 health measures


Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, medical facilities are being expanded in Dhaka and every other district to treat coronavirus patients. Steps were taken to ensure uninterrupted oxygen supply in the designated government hospitals while works were underway to increase ICU facilities there. The government has increased the number of high-flow nasal cannula (HFNCs) and other equipment compared to last year. With assistance from development partners, it took up multiple projects to install central oxygen supply systems in 124 hospitals. According to the DGHS data, there are 9,711 general beds and 586 ICU beds in Covid-19 dedicated hospitals across the country. The government has launched a Covid-19 dedicated hospital at Dhaka North City Corporation's Mohakhali market. The hospital will have 212 ICUs and 250 high dependency units with 540 isolated high care rooms for Covid-19 patients.


Keeping the economic wheel running with sector specific stimulus


Since the Covid-19 outbreak, Bangladesh has taken various measures to overcome the adverse impacts of the pandemic. To implement the plans, government announced 21 stimulus packages of $14 billion, targeting the export-oriented industries, cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises and agriculture sector. At the beginning of 2021, government announced two new stimulus packages of $318.4 million to curb the economic impact of the pandemic. Government has approved these two packages in a bid to boost the cottage, small and medium enterprises (CSMEs) and to develop the living standards of people at the grassroots level. Of the two packages, the first one amounts to $176.9 million for CSMEs and the second one amounts to $141.5 million for disadvantaged elderly people, widow and destitute women living in 150 sub-districts. The government has so far approved 23 stimulus packages of $15 billion, which is 4.44% of the GDP.


Second phase assistance for vulnerable people


During the lockdown to curb the second wave of the pandemic, the government restarted food and cash distribution program throughout the country to support the vulnerable people. The government provided $1.3 million for emergency assistance from the Prime Minister’s special fund. Besides, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief distributed $71.6 million among low-income families in the informal sectors during the second wave of the pandemic. During the first wave (under FY 2019-2020), government spent $294 million for food distribution and $104 million to provide cash aid to vulnerable people. Besides emergency food and cash aid, the government expanded its social safety program coverage and increased amount of different allowance programs. The government has also been running Open Market Sale (OMS) program to ensure adequate supply of rations at subsidized price for urban low-income people.


Direct cash assistance for 3.65 million low-income families


HPM Sheikh Hasina launched the second phase of digital cash disbursement among 3.65 million low-income families hit hard by the second wave of the pandemic. The disbursement of cash support is being channeled through G2P (Government-to-Person) using mobile financial services (MFSs) operators. Each beneficiary family is receiving BDT 2,500, a total amount of $109 million has been allocated for it. The government disbursed the first phase of digital cash disbursement among low-income families during the first wave of the pandemic in May 2020.


Agricultural incentives, subsidy and mechanization to boost production


Among the 23 fiscal stimulus, the agriculture sector received $3.5 billion allocation in different sub-sectors. The agriculture sector also received $2.8 billion budgetary allocation in FY2020-21. The government has allocated $1.13 billion to increase subsidy on agricultural inputs and allocated $380 million for mechanization. In FY2020-21, the government has disbursed $43.9 million incentives among 5.7 million farmers to recover the damages caused by the pandemic. The government has continued to distribute harvesters and other mechanized agricultural inputs at affordable prices. Agricultural credit disbursement increased by 7% in the first eight months of 2020-21 fiscal compared to same period of the previous financial year. During this period, the disbursement rose to $1.91 billion in the July-February from $1.78 billion in the same period of FY2019-20.


Agro-product transport and supply chain interventions


During the first wave of the pandemic, government stabilized the market through interventions such as subsidized food selling program and supply-chain intervention such as facilitating transport of agro-produces. Likewise, when government imposed lockdown to contain second wave of the pandemic, Bangladesh Railway started operating 8 special parcel trains to facilitate transportation of agricultural products. The public food grain procurement has also started on April 28 and will continue till August 31. With a view to ensure fair price of the paddy produced by farmers, the procurement price of rice has been fixed at BDT 40 per kg and the paddy price at BDT 27 per kg.