Export-oriented factories reopen from August 1
Apparently giving in to pressure, the government has decided to allow export-oriented factories to reopen from August 1 amid the ongoing "strict lockdown" enforced to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The cabinet division in a circular issued yesterday said all export-oriented industries and factories will be out of the purview of restrictions from August 1 considering the "overall situation".
The circular was issued a few hours after the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) disclosed that it recommends extending the current countrywide lockdown, considering the worsening Covid-19 situation.
"We have advised the public administration ministry to extend the lockdown. If the government reopens everything, infections will definitely rise," Prof ABM Khurshid Alam, director general of the DGHS, told reporters yesterday.
There is pressure to reopen the factories, the DG said, adding, "But if the infections increase, we will not be able to accommodate patients at the hospitals."
After an inter-ministerial meeting three days ago, officials told reporters that the government turned down the plea from businesspeople, including garment factory owners, to reopen the factories.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal chaired the meeting.
The government enforced the "strict lockdown" for 14 days from July 1. It relaxed the lockdown for eight days around Eid. The strict restrictions were again put in place on July 23 for two weeks. This time, the government also put restrictions on factories.
Amid bans on public transport, people have been rushing towards Dhaka in congested pickups or rickshaw vans even before the restrictions on factories were lifted yesterday.
Experts fear the move will increase new cases of Covid-19 as it will force a large number of workers, who went home during the Eid vacation, to return immediately.
Issuing a circular, the cabinet division yesterday said taking the overall situation into consideration, all the export-oriented industries and factories will be kept out of the purview of restrictions from August 1.
The circular signed by Rezaul Islam, deputy secretary, of the Cabinet Division, requested the authorities concerned to take necessary measures.
On Thursday, leaders of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry met Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam at the latter's office at the Secretariat.
They requested the government to allow them to reopen all factories, including the export-oriented ones, citing that export might suffer severely for the continued restrictions.
Leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association and Bangladesh Textiles Mills Association were present among others at the meeting.
The cabinet secretary assured them of placing the issue to the government high-ups.
According to DGHS data, the infection rate increased in Dhaka and its adjacent districts Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Gazipur and Manikganj last week.
On an average, the positivity rate in Dhaka in the third week of July was 33 percent. Last week, that number went up to 35 percent.
The positivity rate was 39 percent in Narayanganj, 44 percent in Munshiganj and Gazipur and 45 percent in Manikganj last week. These four districts are well known as industrial and transport hubs.
Be-Nazir Ahmed, a former director of the DGHS, said there is no indication that the number of new cases are falling and this decision will do nothing but deteriorate the situation.
"Now, people will start coming from different parts of the country to their workplaces in Tongi, Gazipur and Savar areas and the infection will spread," he said.
Mohammad Shahidullah, chairman of the National Technical Advisory Committee on Covid-19, said, "Science says a two-week strict lockdown can break the chain of transmission. But the latest decision of the government will surely increase the risks."