As the country's economy has come to a standstill due to the ongoing public holiday aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, experts have urged the government to look both at saving lives and livelihoods as millions of people have lost their jobs.
Economists fear the shutdown will have an adverse impact on the livelihoods of millions of vulnerable people and those engaged in informal sector, putting a severe strain on the economy.
The low-income people, especially day-labourers, rickshaw-pullers, transport workers, hawkers, staff of restaurants and shops, construction workers, have already been hit hard.
Experts have urged the government to provide cash incentive to the poor and properly distribute relief and utilise the incentive packages to overcome the possible economic impact on the country due to coronavirus outbreak.
According to the Labour Force Survey 2017, around 60.8 million people were in various jobs or engaged in economic activities. Employment in the informal sector accounts for 85.1 percent of the employed population.
Talking to UNB, former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said the government must ensure first that everyone has food.
"Saving lives is the most important issue. We must prevent deaths caused by hunger. Medical treatment has to be ensured for all," the noted economist added.
Dr Azizul Islam said the government has to ensure that relief materials reach the people in need. "Assistance to poor people has to be increased. We've noticed from media reports that relief materials were stockpiled in warehouses illegally even in this situation. Proper distribution is important and strong monitoring is needed," he said.
Islam suggested carrying out more coronavirus tests, Dr Azizul Islam added.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), underscored the need for an emergency and recovery plan for the economy.
"Food and health issues should be prioritised. Then, plan to revive the economy has to be taken. Investment in health sector should be increased," he said.
He welcomed the stimulus packages.
"The central bank must monitor strictly so that no-one can take advantage of the situation. Good governance is important to tackle non-performing loans," the economist added.
He urged the government to allocate a monthly cash handout of Tk8,000 for each household of 75.7 million marginalised people.
"Both the economy and growth will reduce in the future due to COVID-19 outbreak. So, workers and entrepreneurs have to be put in motion to tackle the problem," he said.
Of the people employed in formal and informal sectors, he said 14 million get monthly salaries while over 10 million are day-labourers.
Besides, he added, 27 million people are self-employed like hawkers, street vendors, and small businessmen.
"An overwhelming majority of the country's 37 million labour forces – self-employed and day labourers – have become temporarily jobless," he said.
He said nearly 10 million day-labourers have lost their jobs while the vast majority of 27 million people in the informal sector have become temporarily unemployed and they are gradually losing their purchasing capacity.
Talking to UNB, Dr MA Razzaque, research director at Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI), said farmers are unable to sell their products due to supply chain disruption and urged the government to ensure smooth supply of the agriculture products to market.
He said immediate focus should be on human lives and livelihoods.
"Under the current circumstances, the government should provide cash incentive to vulnerable people. Saving lives should be the main objective in the existing situation," he said.
The economist said health service must be ensured for all. Doctors, nurses and other health workers should be protected and protective gears should be provided to hospitals.
"Around 85-90 percent of the total employees are in informal sector. Overall, 50 million people are at risk now. Cash incentives should be given to them," Razzaque said.