'Desperate times call for desperate measures' is an old adage that was probably derived from another proverb, 'extreme diseases must have extreme remedies'.
The saying, it seems, now best suits the Bangladesh garment industry. Following the coronavirus outbreak, like most other sectors, this lifeline of the country's economy is in serious trouble.
Buyers from across the world, who are also in the midst of a crisis of unprecedented scale, have already cancelled orders worth more than 2.0 billion US dollar. Many more have asked for withholding production against their orders. The industry is now bracing for cancellation of more orders as the coronavirus is now playing havoc with life and economy in the USA and Europe, the main destinations of Bangladesh apparels.
In such a situation, a good number of apparel units have pulled down their shutters and many more are likely to follow suit. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the apex trade body of the woven garment factories, has already asked its members to declare layoff in their respective units.
Closing down the factories is not a difficult job. What the owners will be needing to do is to put up a notice at their main entrance to this effect. But what about the wages of more than 3.5 million workers? Will the factory owners be paying their wages throughout the entire lockdown period?
The government has come forward to help the export-oriented industries---the RMG at the top of the list---in their difficult times. The prime minister in her address to the nation last week promised to make available Tk50 billion to the export-oriented industries to help the latter pay salaries and wages to their employees and workers. The money will be provided as loan that carries a nominal interest rate of 2.0 per cent. The Bangladesh Bank will arrange the fund early next month.
However, woven garment factories have another way of surviving this difficult time. The skyrocketing global demand for personal protective gears for doctors, health workers and relevant others has come as an opportunity before them. Some local factories have already started producing the same to meet the local demand and also for export. Others could pick it up easily.
The United States has expressed its willingness to buy protective gears from Bangladesh and the latter has agreed to make available, at least, some of those. Many hospitals in the US and other developed countries have been failing to meet the demand for protective gears for their health workers. Some other countries have made similar requests to Bangladesh government recently. Actually, the indication is that the demand for such gears will be even bigger in the coming days.
Bangladesh garment workers are efficient enough to pick up the skill needed to produce quality personal protective equipment (PPE). The main issue here is the availability of materials required for production of PPE.
The BGMEA does need to look into the issue seriously and seize upon this opportunity as a means for weathering a difficult time.
The way things centring aroundthe coronavirus pandemic are moving now, it is difficult to predict what lies ahead. The sight is really dreadful. Within a short very period, the rate of infection among the affected countries has shot up to an unbelievable level.
A good number of countries across the world did not make necessary preparations despite having enough time since the first outbreak of the COVID-19 disease in Wuhan in mainland China in December last. The world's most resourceful country, the USA, is one of those. Rather, President Trump on occasions made fun out of the viral disease and Americans are now paying a heavy price for the administration's lack of preparedness.
It is, in fact, unbelievable that hospitals in many states in the USA do not have sufficient PPE and ventilators to deal with the onrush of corona patients.
Predictions involving loss of lives in the ongoing pandemic are very grim. The COVID-19 is likely to claim lives of millions across the world unless an effective drug is found within a very short time, maybe a month or so. Researchers would surely find a vaccine to stave off corona, but it is not before 10 to 12 months. But that will be too long a time.
Riding out a difficult time is as important as protecting lives from the onslaught of coronavirus. Bangladeshis are resilient people and they have proved their resilience against many odds, including natural ones, time and again. Hopefully, the common people as well as operators of productive sectors would demonstrate their resilience again and weather all odds. For this, they may have to be desperate as well as innovative.