Both experts and citizens alike have intensely debated the efficacy of how the lockdown has been enforced in Bangladesh.
A quick scan of the plethora of opinions on this matter will convince you that Bangladeshi citizens view government performance around lockdown quite negatively.
But there's more to this than meets the eye. A nationally representative telephonic survey of 2750 people during January-February 2021 and supplemental surveys of 400 urban slum dwellers and 500 young people—all conducted by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)—give us a more nuanced understanding of citizen's experience and opinion about the first lockdown.
This survey shows that citizens do not have a generally negative opinion of how the government handled the lockdown.
Instead, citizens made a more complex and pragmatic evaluation of its implementation—talking about the successes and challenges, as well as giving opinions on how it could be more effective.
Their assessment could provide valuable lessons for the policymakers in dealing with current and future lockdown situations.
So, what did citizens think about the 2020 lockdown? Was the lockdown enforced strictly? Most respondents (57%) thought that lockdown had been strictly enforced in their localities.
Most others thought that the enforcement was 'relaxed' or 'partially relaxed'. Unsurprisingly, more urban dwellers reported a stricter lockdown than rural people.
A large majority of the respondents (71%) who thought that lockdown enforcement was relaxed or partially relaxed believed that this was because the government recognised the livelihood pressure of the lockdown on the citizens.
Again, more slum dwellers (77%) mentioned livelihood pressure as a reason for not having a strict lockdown.
What was the impact of lockdown? Almost all respondents reported a decline in income, and three-quarters of the respondents noted a loss of employment.
Similar percentages of slum dwellers reported income loss but a higher proportion (83%) mentioned losing employment.
Income loss was mentioned by 87% of the youth, and job loss was mentioned by approximately 69%. Other significant consequences mentioned included educational loss and mental health issues.
Lockdown has clearly proven to be a costly Covid-19 prevention strategy for Bangladesh due to its psychological and economic consequences, regardless of how necessary it was.
Despite their concern for their livelihood, people do recognise the need for a lockdown. If necessary, two-thirds of respondents desired some form of lockdown, both stricter and more relaxed.
Though the slum-dwellers suffered the economic brunt of the lockdown, 56% of them thought strict enforcement of the lockdown was necessary.
Respondents were relieved when the lockdown was lifted because they were in desperate need of assistance from the government or another agency during the lockdown.
When respondents were directly asked about problems with the government's lockdown measures (see figure below), the issue of livelihood came up again: a majority (60%) stated that no livelihood support was provided to people who were compelled to leave paid work. This flaw was mentioned by a higher percentage of slum dwellers (67%).
*Multiple responses therefore total percentages will be more than 100
The findings suggest that, while the majority of citizens thought the lockdown was necessary and were right to be concerned about the virus, they were unable to comply with it.
They needed to work in order to put food on the table and pay their bills. Officials entrusted with ensuring the proper enforcement of lockdown measures were aware of this as well, and so (with a few exceptions) they mostly forgave those who violated lockdown rules.
The survey also found widespread support for the government's Covid-19 response, indicating that people have faith in the government.
Most people thought the government's relief was timely, but they were divided on whether it was adequate or whether the deserving people received it.
Other issues raised by citizens regarding the lockdown's implementation include: a sudden declaration of lockdown that did not allow citizens to prepare (24%), ineffective communication of lockdown directives (16%), and repeated changes in lockdown announcements (15%).
A significant proportion of slum dwellers (29%) stated that not involving the local government in the enforcement process was also a big mistake.
Most respondents also believed that the government had failed to effectively communicate the importance of lockdown in curbing the virus's spread.
The survey revealed that 64 percent of respondents were either unaware of or unconvinced that lockdown could help to reduce the spread of infection.
Based on the findings mentioned above, we would like to make the following recommendations to policymakers:
Covid-19 management should be guided by the principle of balancing lives and livelihoods.
Thus, the government should broaden the scope of relief / social protection and provide more generous cash or food transfers during the lockdown period.
The government should involve social actors—community groups, youth clubs, non-governmental organisations, and other civic organisations—in raising awareness and mobilising the community to ensure better compliance with the lockdown directives. The government should be clear about the message it wants to send through lockdown directives.
Syeda Salina Aziz and Dr. Mirza Hassan are based at Brac Institute of Governance and Development, Brac University. Professor Naomi Hossain is based at Accountability Research Center, American University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.