As owners have started reopening some of their RMG factories amid the growing coronavirus cases, health experts said such a ‘premature’ step may trigger a deadly outbreak of the virus.
They want the government to strictly keep the shutdown in force at least until the Eid-ul-Fitr instead of allowing reopening any factory or market as the community transmission of Covid-19 has started taking a new turn with growing asymptomatic cases in the country.
Economists think that it is too early to ease the shutdown and allow businesses to reopen, even on a limited scale, as no sign is there that the virus is slowing down.
They also said it will not be wise to compromise with lives and health risks for the cause of livelihoods and the economy.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s private sector adviser Salman F Rahman said on Saturday said the country’s export-oriented factories must be reopened slowly by maintaining necessary health protocol to save the economy.
“We’ve to take a decision. We’ve Sweden model in front of us, they did not enforce lockdown. In China’s Wuhan, a second wave of infection is taking place. Germany and France are still suffering, new infections and deaths are happening, but still they are opening up their factories,” he said at a discussion organised by FBCCI on Saturday.
Contacted, Vice-Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Prof Kanak Kanti Barua said, “I personally think it’s not justified to allow reopening factories when the community transmission is taking a bad shape.”
“We still couldn’t enforce the lockdown properly and force people maintain the social distancing. People are still roaming around and flocking markets. Under such a situation, if we reopen factories, we’ve to pay a heavy price,” he warned.
The BSMMU VC said Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur are the hotspots for the coronavirus where most factories are located. “If we allow workers from these areas working at the factories, the virus will spread badly. An infected worker can transmit the virus among all other fellow workers if they work together.”
“The hidden cases are also growing. Even, our many doctors and nurses are getting infected despite remaining alert and wearing masks and PPEs. So, if we allow our workers to work at factories, we’ll invite a great danger for the country. The way the corona cases are growing we’re worried about the tackling the situation,” Kanak said.
He said though the factory owners are saying they will ensure the security of their workers and follow necessary health protocol, they will not be able to do so.
Principal of Dhaka Medical College Prof Khan Abul Kalam Azad said the entire nation will be at risk if the factories are now reopened as there here is no sign that the coronavirus situation has improved.
He said businessmen are talking about Sweden model but the perspectives of the two countries are not the same. “People in Sweden abide by law, maintain social distancing, lead a much better life, and their healthcare facilities are much more updated than ours.”
Khan continued, “But our workers here stay at congested rooms with other family members. They’re less conscious about health hygiene and safety. When they’ll work together, they are unlikely to maintain social distancing. There’s a huge difference between the culture and behaviour of the people of the two countries. So, I think Sweden model won’t here. We need our local mechanism.”
Besides, he said, now many people are hiding their symptoms while many corona-infected patients are asymptomatic. “Under such circumstances, we can’t support reopening factories or easing the shutdown. We rather advocate for strict enforcement of the shutdown and social distancing rulea.”
The DMCH Principal said they are also concerned about economic stalemate and sufferings of people who lost their means of earnings due to the shutdown. “But we can’t push people towards death or danger to protect the economy. Why’re we becoming so desperate to resume economic activities putting people’s lives at risk when the Prime Minister has announced different incentive packages for them? It’s illogical and unjustified.”
Former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said it is alarming that many RMG factories have been reopened when the coronavirus cases are still showing an upward turn. “I think it’s a premature decision.”
He said the education and culture of workers and the environment of RMG factories suggest it is not possible to ensure health safety or physical distancing there. “If proper health protection of workers can’t be ensured, then we’ll fall in a serious trouble. So, I think we should take more time to reopen factories.”
He said the economy is under a serious strain due to the shutdown, but there is no chance to compromise with people’s lives to save the economy. “Our GDP growth will fall if we continue the shutdown for one more month. But people’s lives and health security are more important than the GDP growth. We shouldn’t comprise lives for livelihoods.”
Mirza Azizul said the government can allow reopening of factories in phases only when the coronavirus pandemic shows a declining trend.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said it will not be a wise decision to reopen any kind of factories without the green signal from the country’s health experts. “Some countries are easing lockdown only when the virus transmission is falling. So, we shouldn’t slack the shutdown until the situation improves, no matter what.”
He said once the virus infection subsides, the government first work out health protection mechanism and fix which factories should reopen first based on priority and importance and the opinion of health experts.
Asked how much time the businessmen and the country can afford to such economic standoff, Mustafiz said it is a global problem and every country is suffering, and all have to accept its consequences. “It’s a conflict between the lives and livelihoods and we should give importance to lives. Without lives, what is the value of livelihoods?” he observed.
BGMEA president Rubana Huq said global buyers have cancelled more than $3 billion of orders and now it was crucial to reopen the factories in a limited way. “We’re maintaining strict health protocols. We also urged the BSMMU VC to give us an expert to follow up with us.”