Bangladesh factories open as economic worries trump virus

Aug 19, 2021, 9:11 PM | Updated: 10:12 pm
Garment employees work in a sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Banglade...

Garment employees work in a sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

(AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn’t know it looking at its factories, markets and malls.

The South Asian nation home to 165 million people has done away with most virus restrictions, allowing businesses to reopen to enthusiastic crowds following weeks of strict measures put in place following the arrival of the highly contagious delta variant.

The move at a time when deaths and new infections are still rising and vaccination rates remain low has alarmed health experts, who warn that the country can’t handle more cases when the health care system is already overwhelmed. But those in favor of reopening say the risks of staying closed are even greater, including pushing tens of millions of people back into poverty in what was already one of the world’s poorest nations.

Ending the lockdown kicked off earlier this month with the reopening of the country’s prized garment factories after a two week closure. Then last week most other businesses, as well as public transportation, were also allowed to start operating after being closed for nearly five of the previous six weeks. From Thursday, tourist spots, resorts and hotels could also open.

At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company’s 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world.

“We understand that we must protect lives. But we must not forget about the livelihoods of millions of workers in the industry,” said S.M. Khaled, the managing director of the company, which exports $250 million of goods a year.

Bangladesh’s clothing factories, part of the world’s second-largest garment industry, have been exempted from most of the lockdowns, other than the two weeks that ended at the beginning of the month and another 11 days at the beginning of the pandemic last March. Nevertheless, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association estimates the industry lost $3 billion in orders last year.

Some garment factories closed and at least 300,000 workers were laid off, often without severance, according to the Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity. Many of those who kept their jobs had to take pay cuts.

Nearly 25 million more people in Bangladesh have been driven into poverty since the pandemic began, according to a report by the Power and Participation Research Center and Brac Institute of Governance and Development. Bangladesh had about 32 million people living in poverty in 2019, according to the Asian Development Bank.

Health experts say they are sympathetic to the economic cost of lockdowns, but easing restrictions shouldn’t happen when just the recorded daily cases are averaging 10,000 and daily deaths have climbed above 250. They say the true case numbers are likely far higher as well.

“In such a situation, there is no logic to withdraw the lockdown,” said Be-Nazir Ahmed, a public health expert and former chief of the government’s Health Directorate.

He said easing restrictions now will only cause more suffering as more people get sick, the health care system falters and lockdowns are then reimposed.

Ahmed urged leaders to listen to epidemiologists and look at transmission data while making such decisions.

“That will ultimately save the people, save the economy, save businesses,” he said.

This isn’t the first time health experts have clashed with authorities over lockdowns. Last month they were appalled when the government suspended to lockdown for eight-days so that people could celebrate the Islamic festival Eid al-Adha.

Junior Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain said last week that the government had to reopen the economy due to the needs and livelihoods of the people.

Caught in the middle of all of this are ordinary Bangladeshis, most of whom are not vaccinated and many of whom fear both catching the virus and not having any work.

“If we stay at home, we will starve,” said garment worker Sadia Akhter. “If the government can arrange the vaccine for us, we won’t have any trouble. We will be able to work properly then.”

Just 4% of Bangladeshis have been fully vaccinated against the virus. After commencing in January, vaccination efforts took a hit after India stopped supplying AstraZeneca to cater to rising cases at home. That prompted Bangladesh to mainly look to China to fill the unexpected shortfall.

The government has said it has deals in place to procure 210 million doses of vaccines by early next year, which would help vaccinate 80% of the population.

A return to normalcy can’t come soon enough for many. Munni Begum has been out of work since last year, when the garment factory where she worked closed.

Begum’s husband is a rickshaw driver but doesn’t earn enough to support their family of four. The adults sometimes have to skip meals so their children can eat.

“We have to starve in order to feed our children,” Begum said. “Corona has become a curse in my life.”

___

Associated Press video journalist Al-emrun Garjon contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              Garment employees walk to work at Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
            
              A garment employee carries finished products at Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
            
              Garment workers check final products at Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
            
              Garment employees work in a sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
            
              Garment workers walk through a disinfection tunnel at Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
            
              Garment employees work in a sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
            
              Garment employees work in a sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a “disinfectant tunnel” in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)
            Garment employees work in a sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a "disinfectant tunnel" in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu) Garment employees wash their hands before entering Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, on Aug. 9, 2021. Bangladesh is suffering through its deadliest surge of the pandemic, but you wouldn't know it looking at its factories, markets and malls. At the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory on the outskirts of Dhaka, the company's 15,000 workers now walk through a "disinfectant tunnel" in which they are sprayed with sanitizer before they get to work turning heaps of fabric into clothing sold in countries around the world. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

AP

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after being sworn in to begin his second term during an ina...
Associated Press

Florida lawmakers to meet next week on Disney, immigration

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers will meet next week to complete a state takeover of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district and debate proposals on immigration and election crimes, as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to leverage national political fissures ahead of an expected White House run. Republican leaders of the Legislature, in coordination with […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Johnny Thai, 11, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a pediatric vaccine clinic for chil...
Associated Press

California won’t require COVID vaccine to attend schools

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Children in California won’t have to get the coronavirus vaccine to attend schools, state public health officials confirmed Friday, ending one of the last major restrictions of the pandemic in the nation’s most populous state. Gov. Gavin Newsom first announced the policy in 2021, saying it would eventually apply to all […]
19 hours ago
Part of the 988helpline.org website is photographed Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A cyberattack caused a ne...
Associated Press

Feds say cyberattack caused suicide helpline’s outage

WASHINGTON (AP) — A cyberattack caused a nearly daylong outage of the nation’s new 988 mental health helpline late last year, federal officials told The Associated Press Friday. Lawmakers are now calling for the federal agency that oversees the program to prevent future attacks. “On December 1, the voice calling functionality of the 988 Lifeline […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Workers at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn., walk by a Nissan Altima sedan on May 15, 2012....
Associated Press

US board clears path for mini-union vote at big Nissan plant

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Fewer than 100 employees out of the thousands who work at Nissan’s auto assembly plant in Tennessee can hold a vote on whether to form a small union, the federal labor board has decided. The ruling Thursday by the National Labor Relations Board overturns a June 2021 decision by one of […]
19 hours ago
A person gambles as betting odds for NFL football's Super Bowl are displayed on monitors at the Cir...
Associated Press

Super Bowl prop betting increasing in popularity

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jay Kornegay was behind the counter in 2004 when someone approached with $5,000 to bet on the Super Bowl but had no idea how to decide. The man, not a regular sports bettor, thought for a few moments and decided to put it all on the Carolina Panthers to score exactly […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Ford, Starbucks fall; Clorox, Gilead Sciences rise

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks that traded heavily or had substantial price changes Friday: Ford Motor Co., down $1.09 to $13.12. The automaker reported disappointing fourth-quarter earnings and said its costs are too high. Amazon.com Inc., down $9.52 to $103.39. The online retail giant’s fourth-quarter profit slumped and missed analysts’ forecasts. Alphabet Inc., down $2.96 […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Bangladesh factories open as economic worries trump virus