Bangladesh reopens 600 apparel factories despite virus risk

FILE - In this April 19, 2018 file photo, trainees work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh is gradually reopening its hundreds of garment factories after nearly one month of closure following a government decision for a nationwide lockdown amid concern that coronavirus could spread widely among the industrys millions of workers, an industry leader said Tuesday.  (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, File)
FILE - In this April 19, 2018 file photo, trainees work at Snowtex garment factory in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, Bangladesh. Bangladesh is gradually reopening its hundreds of garment factories after nearly one month of closure following a government decision for a nationwide lockdown amid concern that coronavirus could spread widely among the industrys millions of workers, an industry leader said Tuesday. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DHAKA – Nearly a month after Bangladesh ordered garment factories shuttered to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the industry is reopening hundreds of them despite risks the disease might spread.

Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, or BGMEA, said she was under pressure to reopen factories after the pandemic cost the industry more than $3 billion in orders that were cancelled or suspended.

Huq said Tuesday that about 600 factories had reopened during this week, adhering to health protocols. Workers living near the factories are the first to return to the production lines, she said.

At least 856 factories will be reopened soon, Huq said.

Bangladesh has the world’s second largest garment industry after China. It normally earns $35 billion annually from exports mainly to the United States and Europe and employs about 4 million workers, mostly women from rural areas.

Bangladesh began its coronavirus lockdown in late March, when factory owners stopped production apart from some sewing of personal protection equipment. Workers left the capital, Dhaka, and the nearby Narayanganj and Gazipur areas in waves, heading back to their village homes.

At a meeting Saturday, Salman F. Rahman, an influential adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the government was keen to see garment makers slowly reopen their factories in phases.

“We have to open the factories, but we must ensure the workers’ safety to do that,” Rahman told the meeting attended by textile and garment industry leaders.