As many city dwellers came out of their homes during the last few days unnecessarily defying the government’s stay-at-home instruction, members of the Bangladesh Police and Bangladesh Army took an aggressive stance on Thursday, forcing people to stay indoors again.
The number of vehicles, including private cars and CNG-run auto-rickshaws, was also thin on Thursday compared to the last several days since the government announced holidays from March 26 in an effort to curb the virus.
The government announced the general holidays from March 26 until April 4 in the first phase and later extended that until March 9 asking people to stay home and maintain social distancing and overseas returnees to remain in compulsory 14-day home-quarantine to prevent the coronavirus spread as Bangladesh is a densely-populated.
On March 23, the government decided to deploy members of the Armed Forces in aid to civil power across the country and they started their activities on March 25. However, many were reluctant to comply with the directives as they came out of their homes unnecessarily.
Under such circumstances, police and Bangladesh Army personnel went tough on Thursday in a bid to implement the government directives.
Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Masudur Rahman said both police and Army members performed their duties very strictly in the capital on Thursday to ensure that people do not unnecessarily come out of their homes.
Police set up a number of check-posts at important points of the capital and asked approaching people about the reasons behind venturing out, he said.
“In reply, most of them said they came out for emergency needs,” the police official said, adding that those who failed to give any satisfactory reply were given a warning.
Sources at the Police Headquarters said over 2 lakh members of the Bangladesh Police have been working relentlessly from the very beginning following the government directives to prevent the spread of coronavirus and ensure the welfare of the country and the nation.
They are trying to ensure that people maintain social distancing and stay at homes across the country.
They are carrying out various activities, including providing food to the jobless, day-labourers, destitute and poor people, alongside conducting awareness campaign every day as part of implementing the directives.
Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police Dr Javed Patwary on Thursday urged all his force’s members to keep up the current successful trend of activities in implementing government directives to ensure social distancing and home-quarantine.
“I feel extremely proud and honoured as every member of Bangladesh Police stands beside the country and the common people during the corona crisis. I extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to every member of Bangladesh Police,” he said.
The IGP, however, said everyone must ensure the highest safety for themselves, their subordinate members, colleagues and families in addition to providing services to the people. “Besides, you must be very careful in providing urgent services under special circumstances to ordinary people so that there’s no public gathering,” he said.
Meanwhile, army started taking a tough stance from Thursday morning against those are violating home-quarantine rules and not maintaining social distancing in the capital and elsewhere across the country, said Rezaul Karim Shammi, assistant director at the Inter Services Public Relation (ISPR) Directorate.
Besides, members of Navy are working hard to ensure that people in coastal upazilas maintain social distancing and overseas returnees remain in home-quarantine.
Both Army and Navy members are also spraying disinfectant on streets across the country alongside creating awareness among people about coronavirus.
Though the restriction of movement and general holidays are helping the nation contain the spread of deadly coronavirus, economists fear it will have a huge adverse impact on the livelihoods of millions of people engaged in informal sector as their ‘wages are disappearing’.
They said around 20 million people, involved in informal sector, have already become temporarily jobless as a fallout of coronavirus, putting a serious stress on the economy.
Rickshaw-pullers, transport workers, day-labourers, street-vendors, hawkers, the employees of hotels, restaurants and different shops, markets, construction workers and other informal workers are the worst victims of the halt in economic activity as they have lost their means to earn bread and butter.
The economists appreciated the government’s quick steps to provide food aids to the affected people, and said effective plans and strategies should also be worked out to help the jobless people return to their work once normalcy is restored.
According to the Labour Force Survey-2017, around 60.8 million people were in various employment or engaged in economic activity while the informal employment was dominating as 85.1 percent of the employed population engaged in the country’s informal employment. The contribution of informal jobs to urban areas was 13.1 million while 38.6 million in rural areas.
Contacted, Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said business and employment are confronting the adverse impact of the shutdown of the economic activities. “A large portion of our labour force involved in service sector who do not get monthly salary are badly affected by the coronavirus shutdown,” he observed.
Of the total 60.8 million people employed in various ways both in formal and informal sectors, Dr Mustafiz said 14 million people get monthly salary from their employers while over a 10 million are day-labourers wo get daily wages based on their work.
Besides, he said, 27 million people are self-employed like hawkers, street vendors, and small businessmen like grocery and other shop owners.
“An overwhelming majority of the country’s 37 million labour forces--self-employed ones and day labourers--have become temporarily jobless and they’ve no earning,” Dr Mustafiz said.
The noted economist said this big number of people will remain jobless until the economic activities resume and things come into order.
He said around 50,000 people go abroad from Bangladesh for jobs every month. “But new migrant workers couldn’t go abroad in the last two months. Perhaps, they won’t be able to go in the next few months, too. Besides, the migrant workers who already returned home in the face of coronavirus impact may add to the growing unemployment rolls.”
Under the circumstances, the economist said, social safety net must be widened further with adequate allocation while OMS activities in cities should be strengthened to mitigate the sufferings of the unemployed people.
The government should also make proper action plans so that the affected people in the informal sector can resume business and the jobless people can engage in economic activity once the situation gets normal.
Dr Shamsul Alam, senior secretary and member of the General Economics Division (GED) of the Bangladesh Planning Commission, said the unemployment rate in country is fueling, and it will take a serious turn in the future due to the coronavirus impact.
“Some 85 percent workforce is involved in informal sector which is hit hard by the coronavirus shutdown. People working in this sector are losing their incomes for lack of economic activities,” he observed.
The Ekushey Padak-2020 recipient urged the NGOs and rich people to come forward to help the affected the people alongside the government.
Executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI) Dr Ahsan H Mansur said officially there are around 4 percent unemployment in the country, but it is not the real figure.
“The unemployment situation will be awful in the near future in the country. Around 25 lakh people are involved only in the services sector like hotels, restaurants and resorts. Around 70-80 lakh people are involved in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) sector while there are around 45 lakh workers in the RGM sector. Many of the workforces have already become temporarily jobless while many others are at the risk of losing jobs due to the coronavirus shutdown,” he added.
Dr Ahsan said the employment of RMG workers depend on foreign buyers. “But now foreign buyers are cancelling their orders one after another. So, employment in the RMG sector is now at risk.”
According to Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) data released on March 31, 1048 factories reported 907.14 million pcs worth $2.87 billion export cancelled/ held up.
“There’s a chance that many SME workers will be laid off if the government doesn’t financially support the entrepreneurs and the public holidays are extended further,” the PRI executive director said.
Bumper production of wheat in different char areas of Sirajganj and better prices available in the locals markets have brought smiles to the faces of the growers.
Harvesting and processing of wheat have already begun.
Sources said this year farmers cultivated wheat on 5,514 hectares of land in the district. The production target has been fixed at 16,530 metric tons.
Farmers have grown wheat in nine upazilas of the district since the first week of December.
Wheat was cultivated in huge quantity at various places including char regions in Jamuna River in Kazipur, Belkuchi, Chowhali, Shahjadpur and Sirajganj sadar upazilas.
Harvesting and processing began from the second week of March. Farmers said wheat cultivation was much higher this time as fertiliser price and labour wage were low to some extent.
Many, including wheat farmers Foroj Ali, Akram Hossain and Azgar Sheikh of the char areas of Sirajganj sadar upazila said that 10 to 10.5 maunds of wheat were produced per bigha this year.
Wheat is being sold on an average between Tk 1,100 and Tk 1,150 per maund in the local markets.
Habibul Haq, Deputy Director of Department of Agricultural Extension, said a huge quantity of wheat was cultivated in all the upazilas in the char areas of the district this year compared to last year.
“Bumper production was possible this year due to favourable weather,” he added.
The number of criminal activities in the capital city has declined dramatically as most city dwellers are now staying indoors amid closure of most offices, shopping malls, shops and educational institutions after the government announced a general holiday to prevent the outbreak of coronavirus.
The government announced public holiday from March 29 to April 2 with the deployment of army personnel for limiting public gatherings and mass transports. Later, the holiday was extended to April 9.
A senior official of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) said crimes, such as murder, rape, robbery, theft and other petty activities fell to its lowest point since independence.
DMP’s Deputy Commissioner (Media) Masudur Rahman told UNB that overall recorded crimes have decreased dramatically in the capital. “I think this is the first time since independence that crimes are this low,” he said.
Following the government's directive, most of the city dwellers are staying inside their homes and premises. So there are no victims on the streets, he said.
DC Rahman said members of both law enforcement agencies and Armed Forces are on the streets. Besides, if any offender tries to flee after committing a crime, they will be caught soon as police can rush to the spot immediately due to empty streets, he added.
Replying to a question, he said the number of burglary and theft has come down to almost zero as people are staying at their homes round the clock since March 26.
Deputy Commissioner (Uttara Crime Division) Nabid Kamal Shaibal concurred. He said the number of crimes has decreased much in absence of people on the streets.
"There’s no victim and so there’s no criminal on the streets. Besides, thanks to a lack of public and private vehicles on the streets, police can rush anywhere within a few minutes. So criminals are having second thoughts," he said.
Sudip Kumar Chakraborty, DC of (Gulshan Division), attributed the decline in criminal activities to increased police monitoring.
As the movement of people are restricted and number of check-posts has increased, offenders are thinking twice before committing crimes, he said.
Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Pallabi Police Station Rafiqul Islam said the number of crimes has fallen dramatically in his area in the last week largely thanks to the government’s order to stay home during the general holidays.
Usually, 60-70 cases are recorded at the police station ever month. The number of recorded cases was 50 in March. Of them, only two cases were recorded in last 10 days, the OC said.
No single incident of rape, gang rape, stealing, mugging and other petty crimes was recorded at Pallabi Police Station since March 26 because most people are staying at their respective homes fearing infection of coronavirus, the police officer said.
Bangladesh has so far reported six coronavirus deaths and confirmed 54 cases until Wednesday. The government has shut down educational institutions and mass transports while advising people to maintain social distancing and urging not to go outside to tackle further spread of the virus.
The government will provide financial assistance to Bangladeshi expatriates, living in some European and Middle East countries, as they are facing a precarious situation due to the crisis evolved over coronavirus pandemic.
Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad said the government has taken necessary steps so that the Bangladeshi expatriates in different countries of Europe and Middle East get financial assistance to meet their emergency needs.
“In many countries, Bangladeshi expatriates have either turned jobless or facing problems with their jobs. We’ve talked to the Foreign Ministry over the issue, and we’ll take necessary steps to resolve the problem after discussion with the countries concerned in a coordinated way,” he said.
Salim Reza, secretary to the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, said the expatriates suffering amid the crisis will get financial assistance for their accommodation, food, medicine and other essentials.
“Letters have already been sent to the missions concerned seeking lists of what kind of support are needed for the expatriates,” he said.
The government has allocated money for the expatriates of the Corona-hit countries, said Salim adding, “The government on Monday allocated Tk 20 lakh and Tk 5 lakh for the Bangladeshi expatriates living in Dubai and Qatar respectively.”
Replying to a question, Salim said, “We’ve enough fund to fulfill the basic needs of the expatriates, including accommodation, food and medicine. Now, we’re providing money to them as much as they need amid the ongoing crisis. Later, we we’ll think about their rehabilitation issue when it comes.”
A hotline has been opened at the ministry and the authorities concerned are monitoring the condition of the Bangladeshi expatriates in different countries, especially in the Middle East and European countries through Bangladesh missions and embassies and by making direct phone calls, said Salim.
The additional secretary to the ministry has been entrusted with the responsibility, he said.
The Bangladeshi missions are involved in launching campaigns for tackling or preventing coronavirus and providing hand sanitisers, masks and gloves among the Bangladeshi expatriates, he added.
Hotline numbers have been opened in different Bangladesh embassies, including that of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Malaysia, Qatar, Iraq and Hong Kong, said Selim.
Mentioning that Bangladeshi expatriates are facing a perilous situation due to the pandemic, said Salim Reza adding, “We’re working for the welfare of the expatriates through our labour wing.”
Many European and Middle East countries have taken some unprecedented measures like lockdown and banning travel, aiming to prevent the spread of the deadly virus, rendering many people, including Bangladeshis, unemployed.
Tobarak, a Bangladeshi expatriate from Saudi Arabia, Manik Mia from the UAE, Mazharul Islam from Malaysia, Akkas Uddin from Qatar and Alamin from Dubai told the UNB correspondent that in many cases, the employers have provided salaries, food, medicines and shelter to the Bangladeshi expatriates.
But, he said, those who do not have permanent job are struggling a lot to survive.
They also urged the government and the community people to extend their helping hands towards them.
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, General Secretary of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said a taskforce, headed by additional secretary to the Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry, Ahmed Manirus Salehin, was formed for providing necessary help to the Bangladeshi expatriates living in different countries affected by coronavirus.
They also put forward a proposal to the government to provide aid to the family members of those who died from coronavirus, he said.
Sources said Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad had a meeting with a delegation of International Organization of Migration (IOM) discussed the problems being faced by Bangladeshi expatriates in different countries.
Coronavirus, first reported in China in December last year, is affecting 199 countries and territories around the world and two international conveyances.
The global death toll from COVID-19 jumped to 42,341 as of Wednesday while Bangladesh confirmed six deaths.