Sunday, 24 October, 2021

Stimulus Packages Save Economy

Uttam Maharjan


Nepal has entered the second stage of COVID-19 with the infection of a local woman from Kailali with the coronavirus from her relative with a travel history. The first case was detected in the country after he had returned home from abroad in January. The disease has four stages. In the first stage, the disease appears through people with a travel history. The number of the infected is low during this stage.
No case was detected in February in the country. However, a person having returned from abroad was found to be infected with the coronavirus in March. Then the government imposed a nationwide lockdown for eight days so as to prevent and control the disease. The lockdown has since been extended twice. Now, the measure will be in force till April 15.

Rationale of lockdown
In the second stage, the infected people with a travel history infect other people - friends, family and others - with the disease. However, the infected people can be traced and isolated for medical treatment. The third stage is concerned with community transmission. In this stage, people without a travel history may be infected with the disease or people may be infected by other people not known to have the infection. The virus spreads in such a way that the source of the disease cannot be traced. Evidence of the disease having entered this stage may be gathered by testing patients with respiratory problems, not those infected with the novel coronavirus directly. In this stage, a lockdown covering large swathes of land may be necessary. In the fourth stage, the disease becomes pandemic with large numbers of infections and deaths.
One of the major reasons for the second-time extension of the lockdown till April 15 in the country can be justified by the need for preventing the second stage of the disease from developing into the third stage. With testing facilities now available in all the seven states, around 4,500 tests have been conducted so far, out of which 12 cases have tested positive for the disease. The government has established COVID-19 crisis management centres in all the 77 districts to prevent and control the disease. It is a critical juncture for the country as even minor negligence may push the country to the third stage. If the disease enters the third stage, the country may be hard pressed to prevent and control the disease. So it is prudent on the part of the government to take effective measures to curb the spread of the disease.
Despite the lockdown, some people are still venturing out into the streets without realising that the lockdown is meant for their own safety and that the government has not enforced the lockdown at whim. The COVID-19 is a contagious disease. So social/physical distancing is of paramount importance in preventing the spread of the disease. Therefore, the people should maintain discipline and follow the required preventive protocol.
In the meantime, the government has started distributing relief materials among the hard-hit people like daily wage-earners and other labourers who have not been able to go to work during the lockdown to earn a living. It is a commendable gesture on the part of the government to take the initiative. However, the government should look for and identify the destitute and needy that really deserve government support at this hour of crisis. The local governments can play a supportive role in this regard.
The domino effects of the disease have manifested themselves all over the world. In the country, tourism; travel and trekking; hotel and restaurant businesses; factories and industries; and the like have taken a hit. The much-hyped Visit Nepal 2020 had to be cancelled a few days after being officially launched. Publicity campaigns had also been embarked upon in some foreign countries. Even shopkeepers dealing in goods other than daily necessities have been hit hard by the lockdown. SMEs and other businesses are finding it heavy going to service bank loans and to pay salaries to their employees. However, essential services like those dealing in medicines, cooking gas, water and milk have been allowed to carry on their business.
The economy of the country is remittance-based. The inflow of remittances from abroad has come to a grinding halt. It is estimated that at least 65 per cent of the households in the country receive remittances from abroad. That the remittance inflow makes up about 31 per cent of the gross income of the remittance-receiving households is not a small deal. The country receives about eight billion US dollars in remittances a year.
It is surmised that the disease will be worse than the 2008 recession. This means the world economy as a whole will be affected for some years to come. That is why governments across the world need to arrange for stimulus packages to keep their economies from faltering.
The country has got a new governor of Nepal Rastra Bank. The governor has been appointed at a time when the country is under the lockdown. The new governor will have serious responsibilities for bringing the banking and financial sector back on track by adopting appropriate fiscal and other policies. On the other hand, the government should come up with stimulus and rescue packages for various sectors to restore the economy. The FNCCI has also urged the government to bring out a special stimulus package by incorporating the suggestions of the private sector to rescue the economy.

Robust steps
The country aims at graduating to the status of developing country by 2022 and becoming a middle-income country by 2030. But the disruption of the economy has created obstructions on the path to development and prosperity goals. The aforementioned goals may be adversely affected unless effective and robust steps are taken in time. Therefore, the government should accentuate infrastructure and other development projects to rectify the disequilibrium in the economy engendered by the deadly disease. After all, the performance and efficiency of the government can be best gauged during and after an emergency such as the present one.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.