Panic grips central bankers as 50 officials test positive for coronavirus | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 04, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:41 AM, June 05, 2020

Panic grips central bankers as 50 officials test positive for coronavirus

At least 50 officials of the Bangladesh Bank have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in a chilling development as the role of the central bank has emerged critical in insulating the financial system from the pandemic and keeping the economy going.

The entire financial sector will face a severe crisis if the disease is spread further among the officials of the BB, said officials.

According to a report of the Anwer Khan Modern Hospital, at least 50 officials of the central bank tested positive for the coronavirus. But the figure might be much higher as many employees had their samples tested at other hospitals.

The situation compelled the Bangladesh Bank Officers' Welfare Council to submit a memorandum to the governor on June 1 requesting him to introduce an alternate duty roster on a weekly or biweekly basis.

The council had submitted another letter to the higher-ups on May 7 requesting measures before reopening the economy, but the management has not done anything to this end yet.

As a result, the officials are spending days nervously as the coronavirus spread alarmingly among the officials, several officials told The Daily Star yesterday.

The central bank has issued many notices to banks instructing them to follow roster duty and maintain social distancing to keep the contagion at bay.

Besides, the BB asked lenders to draw up a business continuity plan so that they can run operations during the pandemic.

But the central bank has not taken any effective measure to protect its own staff, the officials said.

In many countries such as the US, India, the UK and the EU, the central banks are playing a key role in combatting the pandemic.

In Bangladesh, the BB has also unveiled a number of stimulus packages to support the businesses and industries, entrepreneurs and farmers reeling from the crisis.

If an official of the monetary policy or the banking regulation and policy department contacts the virus, the departments would have to be locked down and the officials would have to go for quarantine, said a central banker.

"This will badly affect the financial sector. The central bank will face a tough situation in drawing up policies and regulations in such a dreadful state," he said.

So far, the banking regulator has formed a body, COVID-19 Contingency Planning Strategic Committee. The committee sat in a meeting on Tuesday but did not take any decision.

According to the council letter, officials of many departments now work in a risky condition as there has been no available desk or personal computers for all of them.

In many cases, two to three officials share the same computer or desk, which has widened the risk of infection.

A good number of officials come to the office every day from their homes in as far as Savar, Gazipur and Narayanganj, which are among the risky zones for the coronavirus.

Besides, there is no social distancing when the employees ride staff buses to come and go from the office.

In the letter, the council cited the measure taken by the Reserve Bank of India to tackle the virus to run the official procedures smoothly.

The neighbouring country's central bank has segregated 150 staff of its critical departments such as debt and reserve management and monetary operations. They have been put in a hotel in the vicinity of the primary data centre.

The RBI is virtually being run from a war-room at a city facility, according to the Economic Times.

The council has requested Anwer Khan Modern Hospital to ensure smooth testing of samples of BB officials.

The central bank should put in place an alternate duty roster and take measures like what the RBI did in the shortest possible time in the interest of the country's financial sector, the officials said.

Md Serajul Islam, spokesperson and an executive director of the central bank, did not respond to request for comment.

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