ADB keen to write a cheque of $500m

The Asian Development Bank may provide $500 million to Bangladesh initially as budget support in order to help the country improve its health system and assist the vulnerable groups as coronavirus is fast transmitting across the country.

The amount may go up, said a number of finance ministry officials yesterday. 

The Manila-based development lender has already made commitment to the higher ups of the government to approve the support within a couple of weeks, the officials said.

"As a longstanding development partner, the ADB is committed to assisting Bangladesh in this difficult time. We have initiated the process of quickly exploring the financing modality and other details in close coordination with the government and other stakeholders," said Manmohan Parkash, country director of the ADB for Bangladesh, in a statement.

The Bangladesh government has requested the ADB to provide assistance to help tackle challenges of a potential COVID-19 outbreak in the country, he said.

The press release was released after Parkash's meeting with Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal in Dhaka. The discussions included the government's preparedness for mitigating any potential outbreak, its economic impact, and possible ADB support following a government request for assistance.

Parkash held several meetings with Kamal on the issue. The ADB also held a meeting with the health ministry.

The development lender would help Bangladesh procure testing kits, personal protective equipment for doctors and equipment for hospitals.

The ADB has presence in many countries and assured Bangladesh of using its reach to help the country source the items.

The Manila-based multilateral lender also wants to know how many hospitals will be dedicated to treating coronavirus-affected patients, Kamal said last week.

The commitment from the ADB came as Bangladesh yesterday confirmed the second death linked to the coronavirus outbreak. On March 18, the government confirmed the first death from the novel coronavirus.

Yesterday, four more people tested positive for the virus, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 24.

The ADB support would also be used to provide social protection to vulnerable groups.

The coronavirus pandemic could trigger a global economic crisis, destroying up to 25 million jobs around the world if governments do not act fast to shield workers from the impact, said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in a report last week.

Regardless of size, all firms are facing serious complications from the coronavirus fallout such as immense declines in revenue, insolvencies and job cuts, said Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of the ILO Bangladesh.

"Sustaining their day-to-day operations will be particularly difficult for small and medium enterprises," he said, in a statement to The Daily Star, on Thursday.

As educational institutions across the country have already shut down to slow the spread of the virus and economic activities have slowed to some extent amid people's thinning presence on the streets, this has hit the low-income groups particularly hard.

The economic pain for the low-income groups and those working in the informal sector would exacerbate further if the situation worsens.

Business and employment would confront adverse impact if economic activities need to shut down in case of coronavirus outbreak in the country, said the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) yesterday in a briefing.

"Workers usually work under temporary contractual arrangement particularly those work in small-scale and informal enterprises would be affected most. Workers who work in labour-intensive formal and export-oriented industries would be adversely affected," the think-tank said. 

The ADB has recently announced $6.5 billion initial package to address the immediate needs of its developing member countries as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lender's response to date also includes $2 million announced on 26 February to support response in all of its developing members.

The ADB has a strong track record of responding rapidly to provide targeted support to Bangladesh in times of emergencies, including natural disasters such as floods and cyclones and other disasters like influx of people in Cox's Bazar camps from across the Myanmar border.


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