THE government decision to increase prices of food items in subsidised shops is rather inconsiderate at a time of a public health emergency. The Trading Corporation of Bangladesh on Thursday increased prices of sugar and edible oil in subsidised shops. Regular customers of such shops, mostly from the poor economic background, termed such a move anti-people and a sign of the government’s failure to ensure food security for people in need. Economists too suspect that soaring prices of food items would gravely impact the poor with the lockdown coming into force today and push more people into poverty. The Trading Corporation, however, justifies the decision saying that it had to do so because of increased demand and to keep up with the market. The response is yet another example of uncoordinated government response to COVID-19 because efforts to stop the contagion will be ineffective unless people’s food security is ensured.
With the number of COVID-19 cases sharply increasing, the government has announced the partial lockdown which would slow down the economy, leaving the working class to bear the brunt of it. In January, a UNDP study reported that poverty rate in urban areas has increased threefold mainly because a massive number of people in cities and towns lost their job or experienced a reduction in their salaries. At a time of declining income, the impact of price increase was something that the government should have seriously considered. The government effort to contain COVID-19 so far is myopic and has failed to address the food security issue. Drawing from the experience of previous months, the government should have considered enforcing a mechanism to discourage hoarding habits of the affluent and mend the supply shortage to keep the market stable. Not only has the government failed to keep the prices stable, it has also failed to maintain health protocols at subsidised shops. A photograph that New Age published on Sunday shows a large crowd around an open market sales outlet, making the place a high-risk zone for infection. In a similar situation in April 2020, the OMS operations were suspended as the authorities failed to maintain health protocols. It appears that the government has not learnt from the mistakes it made in the early days of the outbreak.
The government must understand that it has to ensure food and economic security to make COVID-19 prevention strategies effective. It must take immediate action to keep the prices of food items stable and make certain that subsidised shops are in operation following health protocols. The partial lockdown imposed by the government will, otherwise, be a futile exercise as people desperate for work will defy the order.