The Financial Express

Angst grips Bangladesh businesses as Covid-19 cases surge

| Updated: March 24, 2021 13:46:11

Angst grips Bangladesh businesses as Covid-19 cases surge

Businesses are now deeply worried that resurgence of the Covid-19 might unsettle the recovery they have been making in recent months following a notable improvement in both infection and fatality rates.

A number of businessmen while talking to the FE have expressed their deep frustration over such a possibility.

The year-long crisis had badly affected the businesses, but quick policy responses had helped them pick up their activities. The process of recovery has been gaining pace since June last. The government had discontinued 'holiday' period from May 31 last year.

With more and more people thronging the hospitals and other health facilities for Covid testing, the daily positivity rate has climbed to around 14.0 per cent from 3.0~4.0 per cent in January and February last.

With 3,554 new cases detected in last 24 hours until Tuesday morning, the country witnessed the highest single day spike of infections in more than an eight-month period.

To overcome the setback suffered last year, the local business community was busy adopting 'new normal business strategy' to make up the losses during the upcoming Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr, the peak business period in the country. But they are now worried that pandemic might again shatter their hopes.

Even with no lockdown in place, the resurgence is likely to dampen the shoppers' mood during the biggest festival of the Muslims.

The FE correspondents visited several shopping hubs in the city and noticed a gloomy picture in the markets. Traders expressed their deep frustration as the number of customers has started declining for the past few days.

Shamsur Rahman, a shop owner at Dhaka New Super Market, said they had lost all the major shopping seasons last year because of the pandemic.

Seeing downward trend in the number of infections, the shop owner said, he took bank loan and invested in the business with a hope to recover some of the losses suffered last year. "But we're now witnessing quick reversal of the situation. If it continues, it will be a disaster for us," he said.

After losing business in the last season, book publishers thought that the situation would improve in the upcoming peak season with opening of the educational institutions.

But, unfortunately, the rate of infection is rising fast, publisher of Universal Publications Kazi Shah Alam said.

"So, we don't know whether the educational institutions will resume their normal academic activities in time. We're now really uncertain about our future existence in the market," he said.

Md Helal Uddin, president of Bangladesh Dokan Malik Somity, said the shop owners incurred huge losses last year as they missed the key festivals like Pahela Baishakh, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul Azha and Durga Puja due to the pandemic.

He said the traders across the country were looking forward to grab a good business in the upcoming Pahela Baishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr.

"If we miss the upcoming seasons again, it will be a disaster for us. We simply have to close our shutters forever as many would fail to repay their loans," he added.

Mr Helal also mentioned that their association has already sent directives to all shopping malls and shops to follow required health guidelines to avert the spread of the virus.

FBCCI vice president Hasina Newaaj said the businesses are worried about the latest spread of the highly-contagious novel coronavirus.

After a yearlong hardship, she said, the businesses had started their activities mainly from the beginning of this year with 'new normal business strategies' that too have also come under threat now.

Former president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Md Siddiqur Rahman also expressed his grave concern over the rise in infection.

He felt that the people must follow the health protocols strictly to curb the spread of the virus.

"Lockdown is not a solution for now as it would hurt businesses further as well as raise poverty in the country by increasing unemployment," he added.

He also said Bangladesh must strictly follow internally accepted quarantine method for incoming passengers from abroad to stem the spread of new variants of the virus.

When contacted, health minister Zahid Maleque said the people's apathy to follow the health guidelines led to the present situation.

"People must follow it. Otherwise, it will be tough to control," he added.

Regarding the lockdown, the minister said the government is not considering the option now.

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