Sirajul Islam, a shop owner at Tokyo Square in Mohammadpur, paid his staff their salaries for March. Now the time to pay them for April is approaching although his shop has now been shut for over a month. On top of this, he is also burdened with payments of shop rent and bank loan instalments.
"Now, I am worried about arranging money to pay them when I am finding it hard to make ends meet," Sirajul said, frustrated.
Echoing this sentiment, Nasimul Gani, another retailer in the capital's New Market, said, "I have 11 employees at my crockery shop. An uncertain future is ahead for us as we do not know when the Covid-19 shutdown will be lifted."
All shop owners across the country have been reeling from this pandemic with enormous losses every day since March 25 when the countrywide shutdown was enforced to stem the spread of Covid-19, according to Bangladesh Dokan Malik Samity, an association of shop owners.
The number of shops with less than 15 employees in the country is 56 lakh. Around 1.20 crore employees work at those shops. If the average monthly salary for each of them is Tk15,000, the total amount stands at Tk18,000 crore, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data.
Their daily losses, caused by the ongoing shutdown, are estimated at a total Tk1,120 crore, the shop owners' association said.
Mohammad Helal Uddin, president of Bangladesh Dokan Malik Samity, told The Business Standard that they have sent a letter to the prime minister, seeking financial assistance to recoup the massive losses they have already incurred.
"On April 1, we urged the prime minister to provide us with Tk2,500 crore of financial support. We requested the government provide the money in bank loans on easy terms. We will not see a ray of hope unless we are given the support," he said.
"The shop owners will repay the loans within six months of the situation returning to normal," Helal Uddin added.
"We are now in big trouble over payments of shop rent and staff's wages as no special funding has been allocated for them. In this situation, we have no way out but to open our shops," said Helal.
They have lost Tk6,000-7,000 crore in capital as they missed out on Pahela Baishakh sales because of the shutdown, he added.
If the shops remain closed in the upcoming days, they may lose an investment of Tk20,000-22,000 crore targeting Ramadan and the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr.
Helal Uddin demanded that the government permit them to open their businesses and support them with loan facilities.
Additionally, he sought a waiver of interest on current loans.
The government's stance
Bangladesh Dokan Malik Samity submitted their application on Monday to the commerce minister, seeking permission to open shops from May 1.
The association said they would run their business complying with all health and safety guidelines.
However, most shop owners are uncertain about how they will follow the guidelines.
Government sources told The Business Standard that they will review the application and then decide on it.
To contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, on March 23, the government declared general holidays from 26 March. Before that, on March 22, Dokan Malik Samity declared the closure of all the shopping complexes and malls across the country. They have since complied with the government's holiday extensions.