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Bangladesh Factories ‘Definitely’ Won’t Reopen in April: BGMEA President

Factories in Bangladesh are still closed, and their expected reopening has been pushed further out.

Earlier this month, organizations representing manufacturers in Bangladesh agreed to close garment factories in the country through April 25, when the government-imposed lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus is slated to end. Now both restarting dates could be in jeopardy as cases in the country climb and a new mass gathering on Saturday has raised concerns about further spread.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 306 new cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh Sunday, bringing the total in the country to a likely undercounted 2,144, as testing kits there remain in insufficient supply. One week ago, the one-day new case count was 197. On Saturday, in defiance of the country-wide lockdown order, more than 100,000 people gathered to attend a funeral for a senior leader of the Islamist party in the Brahmanbaria district of Bangladesh, CNN reported. Now there are concerns the event could spark a greater spread of the virus.

“The virus is so unpredictable,” Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) told Sourcing Journal Saturday, as she addressed a potential timeline for factories to reopen in the country. “We can only try and apply the best precaution and prepare the industry to open when we sense safety. That is definitely not going to be in April.”

In the interim, factories are still facing a cash-flow crunch resulting from canceled retail orders, and the various media reports and campaigns for supporting the supply chain and its garment workers have done little to right things for reeling retailers, which, in many cases don’t know which next step to take as ongoing store closures bury them further into the coronavirus crisis. For many, that next step won’t likely be to pay for goods they aren’t taking in just to maintain positive partnerships with the Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers that could suffer the most.

For now, Huq says BGMEA is working on protocols for factory reopening so that manufacturers will be best prepared to safely resume operations once they get the green light.

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As part of those protocols, all factories looking to restart production will have to obtain the necessary permission from government agencies and any relevant local authorities. Factories in areas like Narayanganj, which are being identified as epicenters, will only be opened in the second phase of operations.

“BGMEA recommends a staggered approach to reopening and populating factories. To reduce the transmission, it may be advised to engage first the workers that live near the factory,” the outlined protocols note. “It is advisable that factories begin operating with 50% where possible, introduce rota [rotating schedule] work for office, production and non-production staff to reduce transmission and ensure that each post is covered on each day.”

Following these guidelines, even re-opened factories could face productivity constraints once orders and operations resume, which could pose a slew of unforeseen supply chain delays even when Western retailers are ready to reopen stores and start bringing product back in.