Garment factory owners have taken initiatives to set up four testing labs in Ashulia-Savar, Gazipur, Narayanganj and Chattogram for detecting coronavirus among workers.
Tests will be done free of cost among 2,400 workers daily for detecting coronavirus. Tests will be done free of cost for workers of other sectors also.
Though the labs are planned to be set up with the cooperation of the government, no place for setting up the imported equipment has been decided yet. The persons concerned said the labs can be set up and put into operation by June next.
The health ministry apprehends a spike in coronavirus cases by June.
In an inter-ministerial meeting held on April 21 with Health Minister Zahid Maleque in the chair, Prof Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services, expressed his apprehension that 50,000 to one lakh people could be infected and 800 to 1,000 are likely to die from coronavirus by May 31.
Garment owners have opened their factories from April 26 after keeping those closed for a month amid the spread of coronavirus. Four workers have already reported to have been infected. One of them returned from Pirojpur and joined work at an Ashulia factory.
Though the owners said they are opening the factories fulfilling the health requirements, experts fear more spread of the coronavirus.
In this situation, the owners have started talks with the government for setting up separate testing labs for the workers.
Prof Mahfuzul Haque, former advisor of World Health Organisation's South Asia region, told The Business Standard, "Only setting up labs and testing for detecting coronavirus will not work. The garments owners should set up isolation centres for treating those infected and institutional quarantine for the workers who came in contact with the affected persons."
Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association(BGMEA) and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), told The Business Standard, "We want to set up four units. Three PCR machines and a biological cabinet will be in each unit. Then 600 tests could be done in three shifts. We want to set up units in Chattogram, Narayanganj, Gazipur and Savar-Ashulia. Not only workers from the garments factories, the workers from other sectors will also be able to get tests done in these labs. The units will be set up in the private sector with the cooperation of the government."
"The commerce ministry in 2019 formed a 16-member taskforce to expand and make business easy in the garment sector. The representatives of the private sector in the taskforce took the initiative to set up the labs."
Apart from Mohiuddin, former presidents of BGMEA Abdus Salam Murshedy, Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury Parvez, Md Siddiqur Rahman, FBCCI President Sheikh Fazle Fahim, BGMEA President Rubana Huq, Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) President AKM Selim Osman, and Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) President Mohammad Ali Khokon are in the task force.
Mohiuddin said, "Each machine of the laboratory will cost $14 million to import from the US. We are trying to set up the labs soon. We have already talked with the suppliers. We will finalise everything by tomorrow or the day after tomorrow and start work".
Former BGMEA president Murshedy told The Business Standard, "For safeguarding the health of the workers, we have taken an initiative to set up four units at the private level.
"It will require 24 PCR machines and other machinery. Those are costly and have to be imported after managing the fund. We are trying to that end. However, the places for setting up the labs have not yet been finalised."
Asked by when the labs will be set up, he said, "First, the machines have to be imported from South Korea. We will seek government cooperation so that no duty has to be paid for importing the machines which will be transported via cargo planes. The labs will be set up with the government policy support and private sector initiative."
"Once the labs are set up, cost of different tests of the workers will come down."
Murshedy also said, "About Tk6 crore will be required to set up four machines. Another Tk50 crore will be required to build the four units."
CEO of Fatullah Apparels and BKMEA Director Fazlee Shamim Ehsan said, "If the symptoms of coronavirus are not clear among the workers, none of them will go to the lab for test. So, we are interested in collecting kits from the government through our own initiatives and get the workers tested at private hospitals."
Professor Mahfuzul Haque said, "The World Health Organisation has set six conditions for opening factories, and the factories in Bangladesh have not been opened by accepting those conditions. In this circumstance, it was not right to open the factories because the infections are still on the rise."
"So, opening the garment factories and restaurants was not a proper decision. If at least 20 lakh out of 40 lakh workers in the garment sector join work, labs with huge capacity will be required to get them tested and it has to be done quickly. If time is wasted, the infection will spread."
Not only testing but isolation and quarantine have to be ensured too, he added.