Life, Livelihood and Lockdown: An Ineffable Dilemma


Published on July 8, 2021
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Dr. Pranab Kumar Panday:

At the time of writing this piece, the Covid-19 daily infection rate was around 25%, with over 100 mortalities in Bangladesh. For over a week, the country has witnessed a steady spike in the number of infected patients and deaths. The community transmission of the Delta variant in several districts surrounding Indian borders has turned into a cataclysm in the country. Though the Delta variant infection was first localised in bordering districts, it has spread throughout the country within a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, we have been observing the record number of coronavirus infected patients and deaths daily. If the Health Department could have considered the death of patients with corona symptoms, the real number of death might have been higher.

Due to the worsening situation, the administrations of several districts were forced to implement local lockdowns. However, because of residents' reluctance to obey the administration's instructions and, in some cases, the law enforcement agencies' reluctance to enforce lockdown, the expected success was not achieved. As a result, the government decided to implement a stringent countrywide lockdown, beginning from July 1st for seven days, with the possibility of an extension depending on the situation.

Many people have blamed the government for its procrastination in deciding whether or not to enforce countrywide lockdown. Different media outlets have claimed that this hesitation has allowed individuals to return to their villages from Dhaka that might accelerate the transmission of the Delta variant across the country. However, if we look at the situation from the government's perspective, we would understand that they were under several compulsions. For example, on June 30th, all financial institutions, including banks, usually complete the half-yearly closing. Furthermore, employees of both government and non-government organisations get their salaries at the end of each month. The parliament also participated in the budgetary session ending on June 30th. Even the authorities had to consider the miseries of the working-class population, who require money to maintain their livelihood during the lockdown. It would, thus, not be wise to blame the government for its hesitation in imposing strict countrywide lockdown intending to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Now, one may wonder why the Delta variant spreads across the community even after the implementation of different strategies of the government to restrain the transmission. For example, for the past two months, the government has kept borders with India closed. Even the government restricted public transit, public gatherings and the mobility of mass people. Despite several attempts by the government, we did not manage to reduce the infection rate owing to the lack of cooperation of a vast segment of the population who does not use face masks, practice hand-washing and avoid overcrowding places.

This section of the population did not bother the Covid-19 as they strongly believed that it would not infect them. There are other sections of the population, including rickshaw pullers, day labourers, transport workers, and construction workers, who live from hand to mouth. If they fail to sell their labour one day, they find it difficult to maintain their livelihood for the next day. Therefore, these people are forced to move from their homes to seek jobs without following the health protocols, which accelerates the growing trend of infection.

We must admit that the government under Sheikh Hasina has been instrumental in helping the destitute during the worst ever time of history. They have been offering different types of assistance to poor people from the onset of the pandemic. They also implemented a worthy economic recovery package to keep the momentum of the economy on track. Moreover, they have shown the courage to offer free vaccination to the countrymen. As a result, more than 5 million people have already received two doses of the vaccine.

The vaccination process has been interrupted after Serum Institute's failed to export vaccine consignments following the ban imposed by the Indian government on vaccines export due to the deteriorating Covid-19 situation there. However, the government's vaccine diplomacy attempts continued with other companies and countries that produce vaccines. They have secured an agreement with nearly all vaccine manufacturing companies as part of their efforts. Consequently, the government plans to finish vaccinations for about 50 million individuals by the end of this year.

Although the government is striving to balance life and livelihood amid the lockdown, many people have difficulty been maintaining their living without earning money. The relevant authorities should thus take into account the miseries of the working class people during the lockdown and help them at their utmost capacity. The brute reality is that a country like Bangladesh cannot afford to help people for months during the lockdown.

Therefore, we all should come forward to help the poor people in need from our respective position. Different NGOs, voluntary organisations and business firms have assisted people during the pandemic. At the same time, many of the giant business organisations did not respond positively during the pandemic. They should also come forward with an open mind to help people in need. The pandemic must be fought together, instead of condemning the government for everything.
People's awareness is one of the essential strategies for combating the pandemic, along with the efforts of the government and different organisations. Unfortunately, most of the country's population is quite unwilling to follow the Covid-19 protocols. The negligence of these people forces their families, relatives, and communities into profound distress. Due to the deteriorating Covid-19 situation in the last two weeks, all the hospital beds across the country have been occupied with patients. The government has provided sufficient oxygen, which is one of the most necessary instruments to save people's lives during the pandemic. In several situations, though, the oxygen and ICU beds in various hospitals have been scarce. Therefore it will be challenging for the government to address the problem that might result in thousands of fatalities if the situation worsens further.

Under the above circumstances, we all should behave sensibly during the worst ever time of the century. If we could manage to follow the government's direction for two weeks and stay at home accepting the miseries, the curb of infection would start to flatten. We know that the majority of the people are facing hardship during the lockdown. At the same time, we must also recognise that life is more precious than a livelihood. How are we going to earn a living if we do not live? Therefore, all actors, including the government, citizens, and different organisations, should work collectively to overcome the pandemic. No magic can help people overcome the dilemma between life, livelihood and lockdown during the pandemic. We need to move forward with this dilemma and behave sensibly to overcome the situation.

Writer: Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi