The Financial Express

‘Hard lockdown is the only option now’

| Updated: May 28, 2020 10:46:14

Dr Ashikur Rahman Dr Ashikur Rahman

A political analyst and economist has strongly argued the government to go for hard lockdown in the form of curfew to avoid the possible disaster due to massive spread of coronavirus in Bangladesh.

 “I am pleading to all that we have a two to three weeks window for trying a hard lockdown which we did not try yet, which comes at a very low economic cost in the coming two to three weeks” said Dr Ashikur Rahman, a senior economist of Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI), while talking to FE.

 “If curfew styled section-144 hard lockdown is imposed while the migrant population have already gone to the villages, then chances are better that we tame this beast while it is still in its infancy” he explained. 

 “Meantime, we can use this time to develop health protocol for work places, fine tune the treatment protocol, develop an effective national response framework with all the relevant stakeholders, and most importantly we give some breathing space to the people who are handling the crisis,” he continued.

Dr Ashik said that the world has taken three approaches to deal with Covid-19 crisis. “Taiwan went for early detection, early testing, contact tracing, isolation, which prevented community transmission” he added. “As Taiwan has a history of SARS, the country has been able to handle the coronavirus quite smartly.”

 “Second one is hard lockdown approach taken by Italy, Spain and China after they lost a lot of human lives and at a very high economic cost. These countries are, however, finally opening doors and they have received the health dividend of this strategy” said the PRI economist.

The third strategy is “herd immunity”, what the United Kingdom had tried but took a sharp U-turn and has now gone for hard lockdown, which has also now given health dividend, according to Dr Ashik.

 “We tried neither the lockdown, nor the herd immunity but something in the middle which is called general holidays,” the analyst observed.

 “We tried to inform the citizens, tried to restrict business activities and transportation. We tried something in the middle with very good intentions to contain the spread of deadly virus in the country.”

Expressing his disappointment, Dr Ashik also said, “Unfortunately, after two months we saw that we lost 3 to 4 per cent of our GDP, we lost a lot of people, the cases are not going down and a lot of people getting into poverty.”

 “We thus paid a heavy economic price and we didn’t get the health benefit,” he added.

The economist also said that International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and other international agencies (WHO) have argued to get the health crisis right and then restart the economy.

Dr Ashik thought that the country has now two choices. One is to go for hard lockdown with an economic cost, and the second option is to accept de facto herd immunity,

 “For Bangladesh, the herd immunity is allowing more than 100 million people to get infected, and if that carries a one to five per cent death rate; then have we signed off for a million to five million deaths?” he added.

The analyst also argued that the country’s health infrastructure was never meant to handle this kind of pandemic. “When you flood the system with patients by gradually open up or going for wholesale opening up, you are de-facto accepting herd immunity,” he explained.

 “It will challenge the infrastructure of the country’s health and police systems and at one stage these institutions will not be able to tolerate the stress, so you will get non-compliance,” he cautioned.

 “Five months down the line, when you realise that you can’t handle it any more, you will have to go for very hard lockdown which will come at a monumental economic price and cost for the poor,” he added.

 “But that is like learning to wear a seatbelt after a devasting car crash where you have lost loved one,” he further added.

Dr Ashik also cautioned that if the country remains a covid-positive hotspot, when entire world will be covid-neutral, hopefully, then the trading partners may even block us in such a situation.

 “To avoid catastrophe, we need to act now, and use the Eid holidays to implement a curfew styled hard lockdown for the next two to three weeks, which comes at a very low economic cost,” he argued.

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