Why Did the Lockdown Fail? Learning From Community Responses to COVID-19 in Bangladesh

As Covid-19 spread in April 2020, the government of Bangladesh ordered a lockdown and promised a program of relief. Citizens complied at first, but by May were returning to normal life. The government permitted the lockdown to end, despite a rising Covid-19 caseload. Two increasingly pressing questions for Bangladesh are: Why did the lockdown and the associated relief program fail? What can be done to enable compliance with public health guidance, and provide adequate support for those who need it?

The failure of the lockdown was not inevitable: the Bangladeshi state is stronger and richer than it has ever been, and the political elite has strong incentives to manage the pandemic without harming citizens. So why did it prove impossible to enforce national public health policies? Why did the government fail to distribute adequate relief fairly so that people did not feel forced out to work to feed their families?

The webinar participants discussed findings from ongoing qualitative research into how citizens responded to government efforts to contain the pandemic and relieve those affected by the resultant economic crisis. Discussants drew on insights from social science research on Bangladesh to understand why the lockdown failed and to propose ways forward.

Webinar participants brought their insights from anthropology, sociology, political science, and history to raise questions and arrive at answers about why the lockdown failed. They specifically drew attention to the kinds of actions needed by the government, as well as by citizens, the media, and the development partners, to enable compliance with social distancing and other public health guidance, while also ensuring adequate support for those who need it.


1. Dr Naomi Hossain, Research Professor, Accountability Research Center, American University
2. Dr Mirza M. Hassan, Senior Research Fellow, BIGD, BRAC University

Dr Tariq Omar Ali, Associate Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University


Designated Discussants:   

1. Professor David Lewis, Professor of Social Policy and Development, London School of Economics and Political Science

2. Dr Dina M. Siddiqi, Clinical Associate Professor, New York University

3. Dr Shapan Adnan, Professorial Research Associate, SOAS University of London