Covid-19 pandemic in Bangladesh: Are we the next Italy?

Updated on April 18, 2020 - By InM - No Comments

Published at 04:48 pm April 18th, 2020

 Farah Muneer and Abdul Monem Khan

After week 6, Italy had an average cumulative death rate of 6.29%, compared to 6.70% in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is crossing its 6th week of the coronavirus pandemic and things have dramatically changed since the first month. 

Observing the world trend it was quite expected that the infection rate would go up exponentially at some point of time and coping up with it would be a great challenge for a country like Bangladesh. Even though the country is currently under lockdown along with complete movement restriction after 6pm, the infection rate as a percentage of total tested has gone up almost three times higher since the 4th week. 


Fig 1: Average Cumulative Death Rate, Week 1-Week 6, shown in percentage of the infected population

Fig 2: Recovery rate as of Week 6, shown in percentage of the infected population

Source: Data from Bangladesh Directorate of Health Service and  Worldometer

As of April 17, 2020 the infection rate as a percentage of total tests conducted is around 9.58%. Furthermore, Bangladesh has been observing higher death count than recovery count for the past four days. The number of tests conducted is still very low compared to the other countries, probably the lowest if some Sub-Saharan African countries are not taken into account. On an average only 117 people in a million are tested for Covid-19 in Bangladesh. On the other hand, in India the figure is more than double. In Pakistan it is 383 in 1 million. So, how is Bangladesh performing compared to other countries?

The first figure compared the average cumulative death rate of Bangladesh with some of the most infected countries and some of our neighbouring countries from week 1 to week 6 of the corona pandemic.

In Bangladesh for every one hundred Covid-19 infected persons, the average cumulative death rate is 6.70% as per the latest data, which is very alarming. It is important to observe that after week 6, Italy had an average cumulative death rate of 6.29%, which implies that Bangladesh has surpassed Italy. 

Italy has just got past its 8th week of the pandemic and is currently experiencing the highest death rate  -- 13.12 in every 100 infected persons -- which means the coming weeks can be the most crucial for Bangladesh. 

It is also important to note that the neighbouring countries are doing much better than Bangladesh. What is surprising is that India and Pakistan, on week 6 had an average death rate of less than 1%. The second figure shows the recovery rate as of week 6 of the pandemic. In terms of recovery rate, Bangladesh has yet to go a long way when compared to India and Pakistan or even with Italy. 

The recovery incidence in Bangladesh is around 3 in every 100 infected persons. Even though the situation is better than that of the United Kingdom and the United States, it is far below than the world average which is around 25% as of April 17.

The figures above indicate quite an alarming scenario ahead for Bangladesh. It seems that Bangladesh might face very high death rates in the coming weeks like Italy if proper intervention is not initiated. Coupled with a high death rate, Bangladesh might experience one of the lowest recovery rates in the world if the current trend continues, which makes the scenario even worse than Italy. 

It is, therefore, high time to make some policy changes to combat this pandemic in Bangladesh. As the healthcare system of Bangladesh is yet to cope with the challenges of the outbreak, it seems defensive strategy is the best solution for Bangladesh to control the Covid-19 incidences. 

Italy has already spent more than a month of strict lockdown and decided to extend it till May 3 with some exceptions with regards to businesses such as timber companies, bookshops and stores selling children's supplies. 

India has also extended the lockdown till May 3. It took China nearly two months to come out of lockdown. These examples indicate the importance of lockdown only to ‘flatten the curve’ so that the country can strengthen its capacity, especially the healthcare sector to fight the Covid-19 war.

Comparing the lockdown status with other countries, Bangladesh should extend the strict lockdown at least for a few more weeks after April 25. The decision to reopen the garment factories could be catastrophic in terms of spreading the outbreak. While this lockdown is affecting the livelihood of millions of peoples, considering the current status of healthcare facilities and the lack of training of healthcare professionals, Bangladesh may need to trade off its economic health by prioritising its public health in order to avoid a catastrophe. 

This might be expensive but it is the best solution the country might go for to fight the pandemic. The prime minister has already declared a Tk100,000cr stimulus package to recover from the economic cost of the lockdown. While implementing an effective lockdown, the government should also focus on distributing the stimulus package to the right people in an efficient manner.  

If these two measures – effective lockdown and proper distribution of the stimulus package is implemented properly, Bangladesh may be able to flatten what is now a rising curve and increase its economic resilience while fighting the battle against Covid-19. 

Farah Muneer is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development (InM).

Abdul Monem Khan is Senior Legal Counsel with a multinational company.

The Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development (InM) is registered as an independent non-profit institution under the Societies Registration Act 1860.
The Institute works for developing the overall capacity of the financial sector and strengthening the links between the financial and real sectors through undertaking research, training, education, knowledge management and other programmes in priority areas including inclusive finance, microfinance, poverty and development.

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