Without a doubt, the Covid19 pandemic has been the worst economic apocalypse of our time. Neither the recession of 2001 nor the 2008 financial crisis can be compared to the present global economic and social challenge. The whole world has been virtually shuttered since mid March 2020. All international travel has come to a stop and one after another country big and small; rich and poor has gone into a lockdown with the hope of saving the lives of its people. But this action has come at a cost. It is estimated that this pandemic will cost the global economy about 2 trillion dollars and it would go into a recession shrinking by about 1%.
“Social isolation” is a term which will be forever imprinted in the minds of those of us who are experiencing this catastrophe. But for how long can the world sustain this lockdown and enforce “social isolation”? And is there a universal panacea that is right for all countries rich and poor?
Every country is grappling with the moral dilemma of whether to let the people die from the pandemic or incur economic and human costs from the lockdown. It is damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If one thinks short term then it is easy to focus on saving lives from this disease but what about the long term effects of a prolonged lockdown? Mass unemployment, bankruptcies, possible starvation in poor countries, psychological trauma, social upheaval and anarchy are all realistic possibilities.
This is where I think every country needs to think of the problem in it’s own context. In America 47million people could become unemployed because of this economic meltdown. Donald Trump signed a 2 trillion dollar handout to the American people which was euphemistically called a “stimulus package”. Most experts are doubtful as to whether this package will be able to save the US economy. How many countries can afford to give such handouts to its people?
It is estimated that so far the Bangladesh economy has lost $3billion. The damage keeps increasing with every passing day of the lockdown. It is not just the garments sector that we should think about. Millions of people work in many other fields. The shopping malls, restaurants, domestic transport, local workshops, real estate development, construction activity and all the linkage industries are closed. How many days will the workers be able to remain unemployed? Unfortunately unlike the USA our government does not have the financial resources to give 2month wages as a handout to the millions in the low income group.
There has been a lot of talk that the success of South Korea in managing the virus has been the mass scale testing carried out. 6200 tests per million of its population. It is the highest number of tests per million of the population in the world. It is obviously not possible for a country like Bangladesh to carry out such large scale testing to identify those who are infected. And due to our social and cultural norms, so far we have not been able to successfully quarantine infected people. Perhaps the workable compromise formula would be to continue with the lockdown and at the same time carry out serological testing (immunity testing). Serological testing is apparently not very expensive and it can be used to identify those who are not infected or have already had asymptomatic infection and are now immune. These people can then be let into the workplace thereby gradually getting our economy back into action.
Even if it becomes economically very painful I really do not think it would be wise to abruptly declare that we can now all go back to work. Covid19 is extremely contagious and in a densely populated country like ours the collateral damage could be extremely high. Furthermore, the losses so far incurred by our economy due to the lockdown would have been in vain. Therefore, a proactive solution of a gradual opening up which is safe(r) would be the sensible thing to do.