THE extent of relief supplies and the way the supplies are distributed to the poor and low-income people amidst a public holiday, now in effect stretched till April 11 from March 26, aimed at ensuring social distancing to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus infection appear to be defeating the purpose intended. With goods prices still remaining high on the market, the government has introduced open market sales of daily commodities for the poor and low-income people. The delayed response, set in motion about a week after the shutdown, seems to be failing to be of much use as prices of goods put on open market sales are also comparatively high. Slum-based open market sales which is scheduled to begin on Sunday may have a similar effect if prices of the goods are not brought down. In such a situation, the poor and low-income people who live from day to day and have gone without work and, thus, lost their daily earning are crowding places where public authorities and private individuals distribute relief supplies. In doing so, they huddle, jostle, tussle and even brawl over who could get the relief supplies, frustrating the objective of social distancing and the stay-at-home order meant to head the spread of the virus.
The government in view of the ground reality should step up its relief operation if it means to make social distancing and the stay-at-home order successful in heading off any chance for the spread of COVID-19, which has by Thursday infected 56 people — six of them have so far died and 16 of the cases have been closed. There are 25 active cases reported till Thursday. With a trying time feared ahead, the government has, therefore, been left with a couple of tasks to attend to seriously. While it should bring down goods prices put on offer through open market sales outlet and expand its coverage and gear up the relief operations, it should at the same time conduct relief operations in a way that does not bring about any disorder so as to make the social distancing useless. The government should also attend to the inadequacy in relief supply management even when private individuals and entities distribute food and other daily necessities to the poor and low-income people. A photograph of relief distribution by the shop owners’ association in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka that New Age published on Thursday shows people jostling for a packet being dished out. Another photograph that New Age published on Wednesday shows people scrambling to collect the money thrown at them by a ranking official of city authorities from a moving vehicle. While such a display of relief operations especially by city authorities is unacceptable, the way people huddled together is feared to put the purpose of social distancing at risk.
The government must, under the circumstances, arrange adequate relief operations especially for the poor and low-income people so that they would not need to go out on the roads looking for their daily earning, it must also enforce social distancing protocol in relief distribution done by its own agencies or by private individuals and entities.
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