Workers Return to Bangladesh Garment Factories Despite Record Covid Deaths | Garment workers
Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi textile workers have returned to major cities, besieging train and bus stations after the government said export factories could reopen despite the deadly wave of coronavirus.
Authorities ordered factories, offices, transportation and stores to close from July 23 to August 5 and confined people to their homes for a week, as coronavirus infections and deaths reached record levels.
Large factories that supply the best brands in Europe and North America have been excluded from the nationwide lockdown order.
The government on Sunday gave the green light to reopen the country’s 4,500 garment factories, which employ more than four million people, sparking a rush for industrial cities this week.
Influential clothing factory owners had warned of “catastrophic” consequences if orders for foreign brands were not filled on time.
Hundreds of thousands of people who had returned to their villages to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday and sit out of containment made their way to Dhaka by train, bus and ferry. Others traveled on foot in the monsoon rain.
At the Shimulia ferry terminal, 75 km south of Dhaka, tens of thousands of workers waited hours for boats to take them to the capital.
Garment factory worker Mohammad Masum, 25, said he left his village before dawn, walked more than 20 miles and took rickshaws to the port ferries.
“The police stopped us at many checkpoints and the ferry was overcrowded,” he said.
“It was a mad rush to get home when the lockdown was imposed and now we have problems getting back to work again,” said Jubayer Ahmad, another worker.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest garment exporters and the industry has become the backbone of the economy of the country of 166 million people.
Mohammad Hatem, vice chairman of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said up to $ 3 billion (£ 2.1 billion) in export orders were at risk if factories remained closed.
“The brands would have diverted their orders to other countries,” Hatem said.