With great trepidation and no other choice, about 1.5 lakh workers in Chattogram have joined their workstation from April 26.
And the factories, and there are more than 205 of them, have not put in government-directed health and safety measures to protect them from contracting COVID-19, the workers said.
They are wearing face masks out of their own sense of self-preservation but the factory owners are neither providing hand gloves, hand sanitisers, hand washing facilities as per the health and safety rules nor ensuring social distancing.
The highest number of factories are open in the Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ): 98. Besides, 35 more factories have been opened in the Karnafuli EPZ and Korean EPZ area, according to the export processing zone authorities. Apart from garment, the factories manufacture export-oriented sports, electronics, cosmetics, shoes, and pharmaceutical products.
Maintaining social distance is not possible among so many workers, Khurshid Alam, general manager of CEPZ told The Daily Star.
The workers' temperatures are checked at entry points of each factory. If anyone is found with high temperature, he/she is sent back, Alam said.
But Shahana Begum, a sewing machine operator in a factory in CEPZ, is not too confident about the measures in saving her from contracting COVID-19.
"The factory authority has checked if we were wearing masks when we enter. But the temperature gun is not working properly and there is no place to wash hands save for at mealtimes," she said.
None of the decisions taken by the government and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association is labour-friendly, said Hasan Maruf Rumee, vice-president of Bangladesh Garments Sanghati Samity.
About one lakh workers enter the CEPZ every day through a gate.
"It is impossible to enter here while maintaining social distance."
If workers enter CEPZ through four separate rows, about 25,000 workers will queue up in each row. And if the workers maintain a distance of three meters among themselves, then the length of each line will be 75 kilometre-long.
"So, it is impossible maintaining social distance," he added.
But MA Salam, first vice-president of the BGMEA, remains defiant about the need to reopen the factories amid the ascending curve of coronavirus in Bangladesh.
Some buyers from the EU, the US, Japan and China have placed some orders, which will be fulfilled within the next few days. "Once those are done, most of the factories would be closed," he added.