Thousands of people, especially garment workers, were returning to Dhaka from Savar, Manikganj, Barishal, Mymensingh, Gazipur and many other parts of the country as factories are reopening from Sunday in the midst of the general holidays enforced to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Garment workers said they were asked by their factory authorities to return to work from Sunday.The government declared general holidays across the country from March 26 to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Most of the garment factories temporarily shut their operations until April 4 in line with the holidays.
The holidays promoted most of the garment workers to rush to their villages.
On Saturday, people were seen returning on goods-laden vehicles, on foot or using other local transport as inter-district bus and train services are restricted during the general holidays.
Many workers said they might lose their jobs if they fail to report to work on Sunday, forcing them to return to Dhaka ignoring the panic and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A huge rush of Dhaka-bound passengers was seen in Dhaka-Aricha highway, Paturia ferry ghat, Nabinagar-Chandra and Tongi-Ashulia-EPZ roads in the industrial area of Savar and Ashulia. Many were seen riding on trucks and pick-up vans. People were travelling in groups, ignoring the guidelines of physical distancing.
Sumon, who works in a garment factory in Ashulia, said: “Our factory opens tomorrow. I am traveling from Saidpur on foot and by various transports.”“The government has imposed an unannounced lockdown. But on the other hand, the factory owners will keep the factories open. Where will we go? I will lose my job if I can’t join work tomorrow. The fear of losing the job is bigger than the fear of getting coronavirus,” he said.
Aklima, another apparel worker, said: “I came from home with a lot of trouble by walking and riding rickshaw as our factory opens tomorrow. But a few minutes ago, my landlord called me and told not to come. Where do I go now?”
Witnesses said many RMG workers have left for Chittagong from Rangamati. There is no vehicle in that route. So they have to walk about 70km.
Thousands of RMG workers were seen travelling by trucks and small pick-ups on Barishal-Dhaka highway. They could not maintain adequate distance from each other due to a high number of passengers and lack of vehicles.
President of Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity Taslima Akhter said “first of all, I want to say that there are two rules in the same country. Where government officials are in the house and the garment workers go to the factory. This is an injustice to the workers.”
Ashulia police inspector (investigation) Jabed Masud said “That if the factory is open, the workers will have to go. Our instruction is to be aware of ensuring social distance. That’s what we’re doing.”
The government announced a 10-day shutdown of public transport services, offices and workplaces on March 26, and extended it to April 9 to stem the outbreak. Educational institutions are also closed.
The government and the owners’ associations have advised the garment and knitwear factories to continue production with proper protection of the workers from the virus if they have orders to deliver.
The government has also announced a Tk 50 billion relief package for the exporting industries. The owners will be able to use the funds only to pay the workers even if the factories remain closed due to the global economic turbulence caused by the pandemic.