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Bangladesh Factories to Close Through End of April as Coronavirus Cases Accelerate

With both orders and workforce numbers shrinking and coronavirus cases swelling, export association leaders in Bangladesh have decided to close garment factories across the apparel sourcing powerhouse.

Factories will be shuttered through April 25, in line with the government’s extended lockdown, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) said in a joint statement Friday.

Some garment factories had still been open after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s March 26 lockdown notice, as BGMEA president Rubana Huq told Sourcing Journal at the time, “They have not been included in the list of compulsory closure and hence factories are independent and can use their own discretion.” She added then, however, that 30 garment factories had closed because order cancellations had left little work, and many unoccupied workers had been requesting factory closure so they could return to their villages in the interim. Those numbers have only escalated since. So have the order cancellations.

As of last week, nixed or paused orders from big brands and retailers had climbed to more than $3 billion, with more than 1,000 garment factories impacted. Those cancellations are causing a cash crisis for factories that rely on these orders to continue paying workers, many of whom already live in poverty.

COVID-19 is causing a humanitarian crisis in a country where one in four people lived in poverty in 2016, according to the World Bank. Garment manufacturing, which accounts for 84 percent of Bangladesh’s exports, has ushered many there into improved conditions, but more recent reports still say just 15 percent of the population makes more than $5.90 a day—a fact that means many garment factories can’t stomach the blow they’re being dealt.

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And coronavirus cases in Bangladesh are starting to climb.

Between Saturday and Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 197 new cases in the country, bringing its total to 621 with 34 deaths. The day before that, Bangladesh was reporting just 94 new cases. In reality, the numbers are likely higher than WHO’s reports as the rate of testing is still ramping up.

Deaths have already hit the garment sector, according to BD News 24.

“The number of factories still operating dropped to 26 on Thursday as an entrepreneur died from the coronavirus at a hospital in Dhaka,” the news source reported. “A worker also died of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, at his home in Patuakhali on return from his plant in Narayanganj, where he fell ill.”

The situation in South Asia seems to be escalating quickly, and many are worried slums in the countries, where social distancing is impossible, could be coronavirus superspreaders. The villages factory workers will now be returning to could soon start to see COVID-19 cases escalate, too.

In Pakistan, confirmed cases have reached 5,038, 250 of which were reported Saturday, and 86 have already died there. In India, there are now 8,356 people confirmed as infected with the virus, with 909 new cases reported between Saturday and Sunday, and a total of 273 deaths. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to extend the country’s 21-day lockdown that would have ended Tuesday, meaning factories there will continue to be closed for what may become an indefinite period if the spread can’t be staunched.