Workers' suffering for transport ban marks beginning of lacklustre Bangladesh lockdown

With the factories staying open amid a lockdown over coronavirus, the workers have suffered to reach their workplaces due to a ban on public transports.

Staff Correspondent and Savar CorrespondentReuters
Published : 5 April 2021, 10:13 PM
Updated : 5 April 2021, 10:19 PM

People in Dhaka and Chattogram tended to disregard the lockdown rules. Health rules were hardly maintained at the kitchen markets, while cars, rickshaws and autorickshaws moved around freely.

Many of the workers and employees had to walk to the factories on Monday, the first day of the lockdown, as there was no bus, except for the ones owned or hired by the employers.

The factories followed the health rules, such as washing hands with water and soap or sanitiser, wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing, for some time after the first lockdown of the pandemic had been imposed last year.

With the number of coronavirus cases dropping, the efforts began to peter out. Now they are back in place with the new lockdown measures designed to contain the number of infection escalating at a record rate.

“The first day of lockdown went well. It will take time to grasp the impact of the lockdown on the workers and the factories,” said Rubana Huq, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Traffic backs up on Airport Road in Banani despite a virus lockdown on Monday, Apr 5, 2021, in signs of people’s disregard for pandemic rules. Bangladesh announced a seven-day nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: Asif Mahmud Ove

On the first floor of Brannserson Apparel factory in Mirpur, 10 to 12 workers were working very close to each other in the morning. Most of them were not wearing masks.

The authorities did not allow the correspondent to visit the other floors.

Omar Sharif, a general manager of the factory, claimed they have been following the health rules properly since the pandemic hit Bangladesh.

He also said the 600 to 700 workers of the factory did not face much trouble to arrive for work on Monday because they lived nearby.

“We have an isolation centre and sufficient equipment to follow the health rules. So there is no problem in continuing with everything normally,” he added.

In Savar’s Ashulia, the workers had to walk a long distance or travel on packed vans to join work.

Farhad Ali, assistant manager of Al Muslim Group, said over 16,000 workers in their factory arrive in two phases at 7am and 7:30am. The factory also has a disinfection tunnel and arrangements for washing hands. 

The workers have to undergo temperature check at the entrance as well, said Farhad.

Workers’ leader Joly Talukder questioned the decision to keep the factories open amid a surge in the virus cases. She also said the transport shutdown made the lives of the workers difficult.

“I don’t think it will be possible to contain the outbreak by keeping the factories open. It will only bring sufferings to the workers,” she observed.

Most of the banks had a long queue of customers outside them. The National Press Club branch of Agrani Bank was one of them. "I am queuing here to withdraw some money and have 43 customers ahead of me. It's already 10am now," a customer said.

Law-enforcement agencies were far from strict in implementing the rules in the capital and the port city. Mobile courts fined some people and organisations in parts of the cities for violating the lockdown rules.

The suspension of public transports brought troubles to morning commuters as government offices and some private companies are open with a limited workforce.

Workers go through a disinfection tunnel after undergoing a temperature check at the entrance of a garment factory in Dhaka's Tejgaon on Monday, Apr 5, 2021 as a weeklong lockdown began to contain a surge in coronavirus cases. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

"Government offices are open, so is the book fair; they are holding matches in a stadium. Does the government want to impose stringent measures only on us?" Mottaleb Ahmed, owner of a construction materials store in Rampura, said.

‘‘I make a living by running this store and that's why I’ve kept it open. I’m following the health protocols.”

Shukkur Ali, a rickshaw driver waiting in a Gulbagh alley, transported seven passengers in two hours. ‘‘No-one wants to ride a rickshaw in the alleys, but most passengers want to travel to the main roads,” he said.

Most of the malls and shops on main roads were closed, but those in the alleys were open.

People crowded the groceries and kitchen markets without wearing a mask or maintaining physical distancing.

Traders in Dhaka and Chattogram also demonstrated against lockdown, demanding that they be allowed to keep the shops open.

In Faridpur, anti-lockdown protesters vandalised and carried out arson attacks on Salotha Police Station, Upazila Parishad and the office of the assistant commissioner of land.