National, Front Page

Bangladesh grasps the silver lining of pandemic

Published : 05 Jul 2020 10:16 PM | Updated : 07 Sep 2020 08:11 PM

When Bangladesh announced a contribution of $50,000 to a European Commission meeting for supporting the development of Covid-19 vaccines, the government attached a tagline - equity, fairness and national ownership.

The Covid19 pandemic has hit every corner of the world with the consequences ranging from direct health impact to economic, social, and political. Problems are similar, but the impacts and responses vary from country to country.

For densely populated Bangladesh, it comes as a heavy blow. The pandemic created adverse impacts on the two major sectors of Bangladesh's economy- ready-made clothes and remittance, apart from health consequences.
But still the government could grasp the silver lining and export much-needed PPE to the US.

“We have been firm and focused on this unforeseen crisis from the beginning,” foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told Bangladesh Post on Sunday.

“For us it was a different fight. We tried to catch the opportunities out of the crisis. And to some extent we could do it successfully so far,” he said.

“We have demonstrated our ability to meet global needs,” he said, referring to the exports of PPE for healthcare workers to the US.

“For the foreign ministry, it was not just bringing back our citizens stranded due to lockdown, it is more than that,” the foreign minister said as the foreign ministry helped the health ministry to buy PPE and testing kits from the international market.

“We also tried to find a new market and keep our expatriates safe in foreign lands,” Dr Momen said, adding that, “We had to keep an eye on the international developments and of course on the Rohingyas issue”.

The foreign ministry established a ‘Corona Coordination Cell’ headed by an Additional Foreign Secretary immediately after the Covid19 affected Bangladesh in March and started working closely with the Prime Minister’s Office and other relevant Ministries and agencies.

They brought back stranded Bangladeshis from different parts of the world due to lockdown. At the same time, they helped diplomatic missions in Dhaka to repatriate their citizens.

Bangladesh missions abroad were also instructed to look after the expatriate community living abroad. Missions have established ‘Hotline Numbers’ and many missions formed ‘Pool of Doctors’ to provide online medical advice to the expatriate Bangladeshis.

Missions also distributed food and necessary items among the Bangladesh community living in different countries, particularly in the Middle East. The foreign ministry also sent some gifts to a few countries including Bhutan, Maldives, China, and Kuwait.

It has also established a web page titled “COMBAT CORONA” on its website for providing telemedicine services, awareness raising and disseminating COVID-19 related information which is also connected with hotlines of the Embassies.

A "WhatsApp Envoys" group was also created through which they disseminated information instantly to the diplomats posted in different missions.

The foreign minister himself wrote letters to his counterparts in OIC countries and spoke over phone urging the member states to give utmost importance on the issue of job retention of domestic and resident migrant workers.
He also proposed to establish an OIC Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund.

“We were concerned because it’s a pandemic that hit both exports and remittances,” Dr Momen said.
“We thought about how to diversify our export basket and how to do it now at this time of crisis. Then we talked with our RMG leaders and they said yes, they can make PPE as per global demand. Finally, we could export it,” he said.

“We have exported 6.5 million PPE to the United States,” he said, adding that many other countries also bought from Bangladesh private sector.

“It’s a challenging time, no doubt. But we are happy that we got positive responses from the friendly countries when anything needed.”

As many Bangladeshis lost their jobs due to the pandemic, the foreign minister was also vocal on the issue. He also suggested alternative ways of using Bangladeshi workforce in the Middle eastern countries.

“I suggested that they use our hard-working people in the agriculture sector and many countries have agreed to that,” he said.
At the international level, he has been emphasizing on ‘meaningful global strategy’ for migrant workers to address the challenges of COVID19.

“Migrant workers are frontline contributors to the economies. So, we need to formulate a strategy for responsibility sharing both in home and host countries,” he had said.

“We also helped countries to have access to medicines when they asked for that,” he said, referring to Nigeria sent chartered flight to take medicines from Bangladesh on emergency basis.

“And this is for the first time, Bangladesh made such a donation for a vaccine,” he said, referring to the $50,000 donation.
“Our idea is simple – we don’t want to see that the vaccine will go to the riches only. Our Prime Minister’s motto is clear ‘no one is left behind’, and that’s why we made the contribution so that all countries can have access to the life-saving vaccine”.