Apparel industry entrepreneurs are claiming to have received the greenlight from the government to keep export-focused factories running as Bangladesh prepares to enter a 'complete lockdown' to curb the spread of COVID-19 from April 14.
Ahead of the lockdown, business leaders met senior officials and policymakers from several government agencies on Sunday, reports bdnews24.com.
Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, vice-president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), said an agreement had been reached to allow the garment manufacturing units to remain open during the shutdown.
Principal Secretary Ahmed Kaikaus, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam, industries secretary, commerce secretary, secretary to the civil aviation and tourism ministry along with several other senior officials attended the virtual meeting.
Asked about the discussions, Industries Secretary KM Ali Azam said, "The issue of keeping the industrial units open in the lockdown has been discussed and a decision has been taken. At the moment, it is difficult for us to go into details until a notification is issued on the matter.”
The government's decision on the matter will be revealed in a notification, which will be issued in the coming days, he added.
However, Ehsan, who was also present at the meeting, said, "A strict lockdown is on the horizon. During the lockdown period, not just export-oriented garment factories but work in other industries will also continue along with the transportation of goods.”
The rationale for keeping these factories open was discussed during the meeting, according to him.
“More than 10 million people are working in these sectors in and around Dhaka. When the factories close, they will start running back to their villages, which will be difficult to stop. So, keeping factories open is a strategy to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Asked about the government's position on the issue, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said, "A positive decision has been taken on the issue of keeping manufacturing factories open in the lockdown. That's what I heard. The decision will be announced in a couple of days. ”
The government plans to enforce another seven-day lockdown with stricter rules, including the closure of offices, from Apr 14 as coronavirus cases keep surging across Bangladesh, setting daily records.
State Minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain said everything, except for emergency services, would be closed for a week.
But the garment factory owners have been demanding that manufacturing units be allowed to operate during the upcoming lockdown. The BGMEA, BKMEA, BTMS and several other organisations made the demand at a joint press conference in Dhaka on Sunday.
After receiving a 'positive outcome' from the meeting, BGMEA's president-elect Faruque Hasan said in a message to factory owners, "To avoid an impending crisis of RMG and export-oriented factory closure during the lockdown, there was a special meeting held with Honorable Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi with the presence of Ex-BGMEA President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin and Salam Murshedi, BKMEA President Selim Osman, BTMA President Mohammad Ali Khokon, BGMEA President-Elect Faruque Hasan on Apr 9.
The team effectively negotiated and pleaded the cases in favour of keeping the factory open to all key policy and decision-makers of the government, including the cabinet secretary and principal secretary as well as the prime minister, according to him.
"Based on all the hard work of the joint cross-industry team, a positive decision and outcome was reached by the COVID-19 Inter-Ministry task-fork presided over by Cabinet Secretary. The decision is to keep all the export-oriented industries open during the lockdown. This is a great success and the Industry survived a major crisis. I urged all the respected members of BGMEA to follow all the health and safety protocols very strictly without failure.”