Bangladesh Post-lockdown Country Report

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Md. Azmeer Rahman Sorder (University of Dhaka)

On May 30th, Bangladesh ended its two-month long nationwide lockdown which had started on March 26th in response to COVID-19.1 Restrictions imposed on public transportation, businesses and almost all public and private organizations respectively were lifted.2 Public transportation was allowed to operate from June 1st.3 Private businesses and all other public and private activities were provided with a detailed set of instructions and guidelines to follow.4 But while the country emerged out of lockdown, the ensuing scenario forced the authorities to impose fresh lockdown measures in parts of the country.5

As Bangladesh came out of its lockdown in June, the country witnessed some of the highest numbers of officially detected cases as well as high testing numbers and a high volume of deaths.6 COVID-19 cases in some major areas in Bangladesh rose sharply and very quickly.7 In response, the Bangladeshi government soon decided to impose a new lockdown in most COVID-19 affected regions,8 where the authorities classified the whole country into three zones - red, yellow and green.9 Although the government decided to impose lockdown again, including formal lockdown in the red zones, the authority tasked with classifying localities took an extended amount of time to formulate the colored zone map.10 Along with this, the government decided to impose a “trial” lockdown in Dhaka.11 The lockdown in Dhaka was also plagued with administrative gridlock as the red zone map took time to be finalized.12 The lockdown in the red zones was imposed from mid/late-June to late July.13 Since the “trial” lockdown initiative lasted until late July, Bangladesh as of September 1st is yet to witness any additional lockdown in any other areas.14

From June 1st, public transportation was allowed to operate with 50% occupancy and with a 60% increase to the original fare.15 16 17 However, this initiative proved futile as the transportation services quickly ignored the mandatory measures.18 These services ignored all the health guidelines, as well as the rules for 50% occupancy and a 60% fare increase.19 The authorities conducted a few random enforcement drives but ultimately failed to regulate, ensure and enforce its public transportation directives.20 Unlike other countries, ride-sharing services were not allowed to operate with the national easing of lockdown.21 Four-wheeled vehicles were permitted to operate from June 21st and two-wheeled vehicles were permitted on road from September.22 23 The occupancy and fare rule was withdrawn with effect from September 1st.24 From June 1st, domestic flights were also allowed to operate.25 However, the ban on international flights continued until June 15th.26 Along with the continuation of international flight, Bangladesh suspended its visa-on-arrival services for all countries except foreign investors and foreign businessmen from June 16th.27

Restrictions on movement in Bangladesh were set from the nationwide lockdown period between 8pm to 6am.28 From July 1st, movement restrictions were limited to between 10 pm and 5am,29 and extended until August 31st.30 Since the authorities did not extend the restriction beyond August 31st, free movement of citizens was legally allowed for 24 hours uninterrupted.31 From June 4th, Bangladesh rolled out a contact tracing app on a trial basis.32 On July 21st, the authorities imposed a mandatory mask wearing policy in all the offices and public spaces.33 Despite these guidelines and administrative measures, cooperation from citizens remained very low.34

In response to COVID-19, Bangladesh went ahead and increased the number of doctors and nurses in its medical workforce.35 However, one of most damaging policies taken by Bangladesh government was to set a price for COVID-19 testing in state-run hospitals on June 28th. While testing had initially been free of charge,36 the government stated that unnecessary testing was the rationale behind the introduction of the new policy.37 While this imposed fee was reduced later in August 19th,38 private hospitals continued to charge for COVID-19 testing and treatment due to a lack of government regulations.39 This caused private hospitals to charge unreasonably high prices for their services without repercussion.40 Another damaging policy taken by Bangladesh was the termination of the daily COVID-19 briefing by the Directorate General of Health Services on August 11th.41 Experts feared such measure would hurt the country’s progress against the pandemic.42

In July, Bangladesh’s COVID-19 pandemic management took a major blow. On July 6th, Bangladeshi passengers to Italy were found with fake COVID-19 negative certificates and on July 7th, Italy suspended flights from Bangladesh for initially one week.43 44 Later, the Italian government slapped a three month travel ban on Bangladeshis.45 In response, Bangladesh law enforcement authorities launched several drives only to uncover a huge trope of irregularities and corruptions in the health sector.46 47 Consequently, several health sector individuals were arrested.48 49 Bangladesh, as damage control, imposed restrictions to prevent people leaving Bangladesh without a COVID-19 negative certificate.50 The restrictions were also eased by the end of July.51

Another case of corruption brought fresh criticism when the food bill of doctors and nurses employed in Dhaka Medical College was reported as 200 million Bangladeshi Takas.52 Transparency International Bangladesh, an international anti-corruption agency, also published reports on June 15th which cited corruption in purchases of the medical equipment during the pandemic.53 Due to their appropriation of relief intended for distribution during the pandemic to the disadvantaged, elected public officials were continuously fired.54 For example, the Local Government Division had fired 100 elected public officials by June 17th.55

Instead of reopening like other organizations, educational institutions were not subject to the easing of restrictions.56 Hafizia Madrasas, which are Islamic religious schools that teach the Quran and are not registered with any regulating authorities, however were allowed to open from July 12th.57 The restrictions on other kind of Madrasas remained intact until August 24th. Qawmi Madrasas, which are Islamic higher education schools, decided to open from August 8th despite the government mandated closures.58 From August 24th, Qawmi Madrasas were finally allowed to open, while restrictions on other educational institutions were extended to October 3rd.59 60 On August 25th and August 27th, Bangladesh cancelled its two sets of public exams for 5th graders and 8th graders respectively.61 62

Bangladesh observed Eid-al-Adha on August 1st,63 which involves the Muslim population engaging in rituals involving animal sacrifice.64 As a result, the demand for sacrificial animals rises higher than anytime of the year.65 The restrictions on religious mass congregation in open spaces were similar to the Eid-al-Fitr restrictions in May.66 As part of Eid-al-Adha, the Bangladeshi government permitted cattle markets despite having high potential of becoming virus transmission hubs.67 68 The authorities’ announcement to maintain social distancing and other health measures inside cattle markets were totally ignored by the mass population.69 70 Brahmanbaria district, which had earned notoriety for arranging a funeral with about one hundred thousand people in April, repeated a similar scenario on August 10th with thousands of people.71

On June 21st, the People’s Republic of China declared that Bangladesh would get priority in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine from them.72 On July 19th, China announced that they were going to start their Phase 3 trial for the Sinovac vaccine in Bangladesh.73 Soon after the announcement, the vaccine trial was delayed, citing delay in decision making on Bangladesh’s part.74 Bangladesh finally approved Chinese vaccine trial on August 27th.75 The visit of Indian foreign secretary came with the announcement that Bangladesh would get a COVID-19 vaccine on a priority basis from India.76 The country also announced a clinical trial of the anti-parasitic drug, Ivermectin, from June 17th,77 and the authorities decided to start using tuberculosis detection machines, GeneXpert, to test the samples from June 24th.78 On June 9th, the country launched its own plasma bank.79 While daily testing rose to its highest by the time the country came out of lockdown in June,80 with time, the testing number came down after this.81 By the end of August, Bangladesh was testing far less than the recommended level.82

As Bangladesh came out of its nationwide lockdown, it placed restrictions on up to 25% employees in public offices from June 1st.83 On August 6th, the reduced attendance policy in the public offices was withdrawn, with these offices starting to function with their usual number of employees from August 9th.84 The closure of the Lower Court extended beyond May 30th.85 However, all courts in the country, except the Supreme Court, restarted their full functions from August 5th.86 Bangladesh also allowed tourist spots to operate from August 18th.87

Bangladesh’s post-lockdown policies, which spanned from June to August, mark a gradual relaxing of existing restrictive measures. The policies include sporadic positive policies lacking in necessary enforcement, the end of arguably crucial policies and repeated adherence to popular religious sentiment.

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  2. The Business Standard. May 27th, 2020.↩︎

  3. United News of Bangladesh. May 31st, 2020.↩︎

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  10. The Business Standard. June 19th, 2020.↩︎

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  46. Gettleman, Jeffery and Yasir, Sameer. New York Times. July 16th, 2020.↩︎

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  51. United News of Bangladesh. July 30th, 2020.↩︎

  52. The New Age BD. June 30th, 2020.↩︎

  53. The New Age BD. June 16th, 2020.↩︎

  54. The Financial Express. June 2nd, 2020.↩︎

  55. United News of Bangladesh. June 17th, 2020.↩︎

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  58. Hossain, Chowdhury Akbar. July 23rd, 2020. The Dhaka Tribune.↩︎

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  60. The Dhaka Tribune. August 24th, 2020.↩︎

  61. Abdullah, Mamun. August 27th, 2020. The Dhaka Tribune.↩︎

  62. Abdullah, Mamun. August 25th, 2020. The Dhaka Tribune.↩︎

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  65. Siddiquee, Muhammad Nurul Amin. July 10th, 2020. The Financial Express.↩︎

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  68. Somoy News English. July 13th, 2020.↩︎

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  72. The Business Standard. June 21st, 2020.↩︎

  73. The Business Standard. July 19th, 2020.↩︎

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  77. The Financial Express. June 17th, 2020.↩︎

  78. Molla, Mohammad Al-Masum. The Daily Star. June 30th, 2020.↩︎

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  82. Cousins, Sophie. August 29th, 2020. The Lancet.↩︎

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  87. The Independent BD. August 16th, 2020.↩︎