THE public holiday, now stretched until April 11 from March 26, to contain the COVID-19 spread has resulted in an economic slowdown, making the economic survival of the urban poor difficult. Working class people and others dependent on their daily earning have crowded the roads for the past few days hoping to get relief supplies. About 80 per cent of the labour force that are in the informal sector are in a severe economic distress with no adequate relief supplies for them that could make them stay at home. A woman with a family of seven is reported to have waited on the road at Dhanmondi for hours on Friday for a packet of food. Visible relief efforts are still scanty and mostly offered by citizens without protective measures needed during an outbreak. What is worrying is that the urban people are left with no option but to take the risk of infection for their economic survival.
There have been no well-coordinated and comprehensive plans in place to ensure a safe and large-scale distribution of relief supplies needed to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. Even city officials distribute relief supplies in breach of health protocols. A photograph that New Age published on April 1 shows that the chief executive officer of the Dhaka South City Corporation was throwing money at people in need only for them to tussle for a share. In many places, people have jostled and scuffled over a limited amount relief supplies. All this risks the social distancing protocol. In the face of criticism, the South City Corporation has started distributing relief supplies door-to-door through ward councillors to 50,000 targeted people. The police have urged people and agencies to inform them before any relief distribution and the prime minister on Thursday ordered that relief and healthcare activities should be carried out in coordination with deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers. These are assuring directives if enforced effectively with adequate and steady supply of food.
The government appears to be slow in addressing the need of the people on the threshold of poverty during the COVID-19 outbreak. Without ensuring food supply and other basic necessities for the poor and low-income people, the purpose the public holiday — social distancing — will be defeated. The government must, therefore, implement a well-coordinated relief distribution programmes early for the people in need that will not compromise health safety issues of citizens during the COVID-19 outbreak.
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