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Ensure Covid vaccine for all countries at a time: PM

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday asked the world community to treat the Covid-19 vaccine as a ‘global public good’ and urged the United Nations to ensure its timely availability of the vaccine to all countries at a time.

“We hope that the Covid-19 vaccine will soon be available in the world. It’s imperative to treat the vaccine as a ‘global public good.’ We need to ensure the timely availability of this vaccine to all countries at the same time,” she said.

The Prime Minister made the plea while virtually addressing the general debate at the 75th United Nations General Assembly in Bangla like the previous years following the footprints of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

She said if Bangladesh is provided with the technical know-how and patents, the pharmaceutical industry of Bangladesh has the capacity to go for vaccine production on a mass scale.

Sheikh Hasina said the pandemic is a stark reminder that the fates of the human being are interconnected and that ‘no one is secured until everyone is secured’.

Bangladesh’s Response to Covid  

The Prime Minister also said efforts to contain the pandemic and achieve Agenda 2030 have to go hand-in-hand. “Bangladesh’s second voluntary national review (VNR) presented this year shows that “we’re well on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

She mentioned that the pandemic to a large extent kept all confined to their homes. Consequently, economic activities were greatly hampered along with the health system.

Hasina mentioned that Bangladesh achieved a GDP growth rate of 8.2 percent in the fiscal year 2018-2019. But the Covid-19 pandemic has impeded its economic progress.

In Bangladesh, she said, the government took initiatives from the beginning putting equal emphasis on the lives and livelihoods of people.

“We’ve announced stimulus packages aiming to minimise the impacts of the pandemic on our business and productivity. We’ve greatly expanded social safety nets coverage,” she said.

The Prime Minister said the government has readily arranged food and other assistance for the people who are rendered jobless due to Covid-19. This arrangement has benefitted nearly 10 million families.

She said the government has announced a 31-point directive soon after the detection of Covid cases in the country. It launched vigorous awareness raising campaigns as well as distributed personal protective kits aiming to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. These resulted in containment of seasonal diseases which are otherwise common in the country.

Sheikh Hasina said the government quickly identified the impending challenges of Bangladesh’s financial sector and announced 21 stimulus packages.

These packages include sectors such as export-intensive industries, safety and security of the workers, working capital for Small and Medium Enterprises, loan facilities for export growth, assistance to farmers and agriculture, loan for employment generation, interest relief for the affected business enterprises, refinancing schemes and insurance for the health workers.

“So far, we’ve announced stimulus packages worth USD 13.25 billion which is equivalent to 4.03 percent of our total GDP,” she said.

During the pandemic, the Prime Minister said, the highest emphasis has been placed on food production. “At the same time, we’ve taken all measures to ensure adequate supply of nutrition for our people.”

Hasina said special arrangements have been made for keeping the industries running and for proper marketing of agricultural products and industrial outputs in full compliance with health guidelines. “Consequently, our health sector and economy are still comparatively in better shape.”

Despite the Covid-induced stagnation in global industrial outputs, Bangladesh’s GDP has registered a growth rate of 5.24 percent which is expected to be 7 percent in the next fiscal year.

The Prime Minister said the government has provided scholarships to 4 million students.  “We’ve also given cash incentives to five million people including farmers, workers and laborers affected by the pandemic.”

To ensure healthcare for the common people, she said the government is providing 30 types of medicines free of cost through 18,000 community clinics and union health centres.

Along with government assistance, she said she herself has collected funds and distributed more than an amount of Tk 2.5 billion among the orphans, poor students, madrasahs, mosques, temples, school teachers, artists, journalists who are otherwise not included in government’s assistance programmes.

“As a result, the impact of the pandemic among our people has been minimal,” she said.

Bangladesh’s Economic Transformation  

Hasina said the government is working hard to transform Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021, attain the SDGs by 2030, a developed country by 2041 and a prosperous Delta by 2100.

“We cannot but emphasise more on the importance of leveraging science, technology, and innovation for closing the digital divide and mobilising resources and technology transfer,” she said.

She mentioned it is also crucial that graduating LDCs and recently graduated ones are accorded scaled-up international support and incentive packages in the transition and post-transition phases to minimise the pandemic-triggered impediments.

Regarding the migrant workers, the Prime Minister said they are the frontline contributors to the economies of their host and home countries alike. Many of them have lost their jobs during the pandemic while many have been sent back home.

“We’ve allocated US$ 361 million for the returnee migrant workers. It is critical to help them regain employment in the post-Covid job market. I urge the international community and migrant receiving countries to treat migrant workers fairly and with empathy,” she said.

Bangladesh’s Commitment to Peace

The Prime Minister said Bangladesh is the world’s largest troops and police contributing country in the world to the peacekeeping missions. “Our peacekeepers are putting their lives on the line to secure and sustain peace in conflict-ravaged countries. International community must ensure their safety and security.”

She also said this year all are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. “As one of its original proponents, we call for due recognition of women’s role in peace and security.  We’ve already formulated a national action plan in this regard.”

Bangladesh’s unflinching commitment to peace has resulted in the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and violent extremism. National efforts have to be complemented by international cooperation to curb this menace, she added.

Climate Change

Talking about the climate-vulnerable countries, Hasina said the pandemic is worsening the pre-existing vulnerabilities of these countries.

In Bangladesh, she said, “We’re dealing with the dual impact of recent floods and the cyclone Amphan even during the pandemic. As the current President of the CVF and the V-20 Group of Ministers of Finance, Bangladesh would lead the Forum to map out a sustainable and climate-resilient pathway out of the crisis. We also stand ready to contribute to securing a constructive and productive outcome in the Glasgow COP.”

Gender Equality

She mentioned that the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action has helped the international community come a long way to ensure gender equality. “As we are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Declaration, we need to strengthen our resolve and mutual cooperation to address all the critical areas of concern.”

In Bangladesh, she said, the government has closed 72.6 percent of the overall gender gap. Women’s contribution remains at the core of our national development. They are also at the forefront of pandemic response and recovery efforts.

Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh consistently and strongly supports the global quest for a nuclear weapons free world. To that end we support the aspirations of developing countries to benefit from the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Genocide

The Prime Minister said Bangladesh’s painful experience and the worst form of genocide and crimes against humanity that the nation had to endure during its struggle for independence motivated it to support the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people.

Rohingya Issue

Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh provided temporary shelter to over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals. More than three years have elapsed. Regrettably, not a single Rohingya could be repatriated.

“The problem was created by Myanmar and its solution must be found in Myanmar. I request the international community to play a more effective role for a solution to the crisis.”

Sheikh Hasina said that pandemic has indeed aggravated existing global challenges. It has also reinforced the indispensability of multilateralism.

She also said on the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, the commitment to multilateralism as embodied in the UN Charter remains unflinching.

“At the national level, despite numerous challenges, we’re committed to upholding the values of multilateralism and working towards building a “Shonar Bangla” free of poverty and exploitation based on democratic principles with full enjoyment of human rights, as envisioned by the Father of our Nation. On the birth centenary of our Father of the Nation, this is our pledge to our nation and to the world,” she said.