Bangladesh reopens garment factories amid coronavirus lockdown

Dhaka [Bangladesh]: Thousands of textile workers have returned to work in factories in Bangladesh amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, raising fears of an increase in the spread of the contagion.

Factories in the capital Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong reopened on Monday after being permitted to resume work. The country's garment factories had closed in late March but under pressure from retailers to fulfil outstanding export orders, many resumed their operations, despite a nationwide lockdown in place until May 5, Al Jazeera reported.

Earlier, it was reported that at least 1,000 factories are scheduled to reopen by Monday in Dhaka and other places including the port city of Chittagong.

Garment forms 80 per cent of the country's total annual exports, and the country is expected to lose export revenue of about USD 6 billion this fiscal year as the sector has been hit by cancellations from some of the world's largest brands and retailers.

Mofazzal Hossain, a worker, said that he felt compelled to return to his factory, where he earns USD 115 a month.

As of Monday, Bangladesh reported more than 5,900 confirmed coronavirus infections and 152 deaths.

Labour rights activists said they were afraid the return to work could lead to an explosion of COVID-19 cases.

More than four million people work in thousands of garment factories across Bangladesh, which last year shipped apparel worth USD 35 billion to some of the world's leading retailers, such as H&M, Inditex and Walmart.

"We have to accept coronavirus as part of life. If we don't open factories, there will be an economic crisis," said Mohammad Hatem, the vice president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Last month, the government announced a USD 588 million package for the crucial export-oriented sector to pay its workers, but garment manufacturers say funds were not enough to mitigate the crisis.

On Sunday, hundreds of textile workers took to the streets of Dhaka, demanding wage, flouting social distancing norms amid the nationwide lockdown.

Garment workers have held smaller protests in recent weeks to demand wages lost during the crisis.

A nationwide lockdown is in place until May 5, but protesters said they would continue to violate the ban on movement if their demands were not met.

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has sent troops out into the streets to help enforce a shutdown on travel and restrictions on religious gatherings and protests.

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