The Business Standard ।
May 21, 2020 ।
Sajjad Zohir ।
The chaos in the management of Covid-preparations and in the management of the basic activities to contain the contagion, is widely acknowledged. The manifestations are in several fields and therefore their diagnosis remains patchy.
Recent media coverage and exchanges in the social network reveal corrupt grassroots authorities amidst this human crisis; and a minister recently mentioned the inadequacy in the government database (used to transfer payments) that was possibly prepared by the same corrupt ones at the grassroots.
The fiasco with the mask procurement, controversies centring around the health minister’s utterances, authorisation and procurements of test kits, the claim of generosity with regards to drugs that are alleged to be on human trial, etc. continue to pile up for future probing. On the side, intra-agency and intra-ministerial rivalries over access to and control over resources glaringly show the ineptness of leadership in the specific fields. A detailed diagnosis of local level failures during a strategic transition to regional and global governance, sabotaged by a virus, will have to wait for another time.
I am drawing attention to a specific policy that may be hampering our fight against Covid-19.
The Prime Minister announced the New Insurance Scheme for Covid-19 frontline fighters/responders on 7th April 2020. Besides health professionals, the scheme covers field-level officers, law-enforcement personnel and other frontline responders. Under the scheme, any such person showing Corona2-positive in tests will be entitled to receive between Tk 5 lakh and Tk 10 lakh, depending on the rank (salary scale).
Those eligible to receive such benefits need to get a test done that shows the person to be Corona2-positive, a sum adequate for a poor family for 4 to 5 years! Rest of the people in this country, whether they are keeping others safe by following the “stay home” order, or, voluntarily going out to protect or feed the community, or, rush to the factories to either earn foreign currency or stitch masks and PPE, are not entitled to any such benefit! On the contrary, they are the ones who will be paying for all those expenses on account of “insurance payment”.
There are worse implications. A policy of paying for showing positivity will encourage many on duty to crowd in for testing, thus making it difficult for the genuine ones to get tested. Secondly, once shown positive, they will exert greater claim on limited hospital and treatment capacity, thus depriving many in more acute conditions! Please note that more than 80 percent of positive cases are considered ‘normal’ out-of-danger, who are advised to be treated at home! My apprehensions appear genuine when I see reports of a large number of people from law enforcement agencies showing positive, getting admitted in hospitals and getting released after recovery within a couple of days. One needs to verify if the stay period was shorter than the period required to confirm two negatives with a gap of at least a week. One may also like to verify the proportion of tests accounted for by VIPs, and the proportion of them failing to show positive. One may further conjecture that a good number of the latter would return for a repeat test within a week or so, thus increasing the proportion of VIPs among those tested. Interestingly, if true, the VIP-factor has interesting implications for the Covid-related data! The actual proportion of tests shown positive would be higher than obtained due to crowding-in of healthy people, and the proportion of recovery is unduly over-estimated!
There are many amongst us who have possibly been positive, developed antibody and are now more competent to walk in crowds. Surely, the probability of getting positive increases for people in the frontline, and one cannot undermine the courageous efforts put in by our health professionals and administration, and by numerous members of law-enforcing agencies. I believe that they will continue to provide the services if they are provided with right kind of protective measures. Even the Prime Minister acknowledged that they are expected to provide such services. I find full justification in the policy on Tk25-50 lakh in case of death, and being selfish, pray that none of them dies. But the policy of Tk5-10 lakh for showing “positive” is bound to attract the wrong kind of people within the system. As argued earlier, it does lot more damage to our fight against the Covid.
I hope that whoever is in charge will take this into consideration and assess the evidence to rethink the policy. I remain uncertain if this will be paid heed to since we are yet to see the public servants, be they in government services, or members in the parliament, or the privileged ones working in the capacity of advisers, take a cut in their salaries! On the contrary we are saddened by the greed factor reportedly dominating resource allocation and pilferages.
Sajjad Zohir is the Executive Director, Economic Research Group (ERG)
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation he works for.