COVID 19: Balancing the economy with a safe lockdown
Recently, there have been much debate in Bangladesh and abroad on whether or not it is economically sustainable to continue complete lockdowns in countries, in both the developing economics i.e. Bangladesh and also in developed countries i.e. the USA, calling for an urgent need to balance economic functions with a safe lockdown.
On the other hand, while Bangladesh plans for a phase by phase plan of removing the lockdown, what’s important for the government is to assess not only whether the business is essential to open up, but also to assess whether the business is capable of operating and serving its customers via alternative modalities of operations i.e. via e-commerce, f-commerce and/or telecommerce.
To start with, any industry categorized as serving its customers in the service sector should primarily need to apply to the government for permission if they want to operate in-person during the lockdown, against an assessment form justifying why their business cannot serve its customers via alternate information, communications and technology (ICT) based channels.
Such service sector enterprises may include for example those operating in the education sector; the entertainment industry; creative agencies; head office and branches of development organizations that do not have direct field engagement; etc. Exceptions can be made for industries with relatively low-income customers as target groups, who otherwise would not be able to exploit such ICT based platforms for purchase decisions.
Similarly, sales and retail industries, plus those in the financial sector should also be required to justify whether they have made efforts to minimize on-site customers via online or call-centre based sales and service modalities.
Enterprises, especially sales and retail outlets, should also be encouraged to source from home-based produce of suppliers, workers and farmers via partnerships and networks with cooperatives, NGOs, trade unions and trade union federations.
Tele-consultation hotlines, whether paid or unpaid, should especially be made mandatory for those operating in the health sector, to enable primary remote advice in any medical discipline or speciality. People have ongoing health needs, not just in regards to COVID 19, but also in needs starting from hypertension to diabetes to back pain, etc. Such services will aim to reduce the number of visits to the doctor’s chamber or hospital a patient may need to take, reduce the risk for the patient as well as the doctors.
Loans, whether via bank loans or microfinance, can also be facilitated to such service-based industries for setting up ICT platforms for them to expand their operations via mobile apps, e-commerce, social media, and / or telemarketing. Such loan services can also match businesses with enlisted ICT service providers in the field.
Industries, whether manufacturing or service, on the other hand, will strictly need to be inspected if open to check whether social distancing measures and hygiene practices have been adapted in their workstations and customer outlets in line with national and international social and labour standards i.e. the ILO occupational health and safety guidelines for COVID 19.
On-site staff of companies should also be minimized to essential employees only i.e. those involved in production and distribution, with others kept on teleworking modalities as applicable.
On the other hand, as the lockdown is eased, it is essential that the government adopts and continues a curfew modality, restricting people from travelling together or gathering in groups larger than two in public places.
Originally published in Dhaka Courier