Domestic businesses that rely on regular communications with Dhaka and other locked-down districts fear they will grind to a halt because of the renewed restrictions every time they get on the path of recovery.
Entrepreneurs, who have been struggling hard to overcome the challenges created by the pandemic, have started feeling the wounds are getting deeper than healed. And they are everywhere – from running factories of motor parts in Jashore to hotels and restaurants by the roads in Comilla.
Enterprises are worried about how to pay back loans as they are on the brink of losing capital.
They resumed production to recover losses inflicted by the countrywide lockdown from March through May in 2020. It was the end of the first wave of Covid-19. As the businesses were about to roll back to the position of making profits, a second wave emerged.
From the end of April to mid-June this year, the infection rate plummeted, rekindling the hope of the economy to bounce back. But as the Delta variant sneaked into the bordering districts and started spreading fast to the adjacent districts, the government imposed fresh lockdown in those areas.
Two weeks ago, the government closed the borders of Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Thakurgaon and Dinajpur. The same measure was taken in Satkhira, Khulna, Jashore, Rajbari, Narail and Kushtia last week. Public buses and other vehicles are forbidden to travel in and out of these districts.
With the continuous surge in infections, public movements in Manikganj, transport curbs have been imposed in Munshiganj, Narayanganj, Madaripur, Gazipur and Gopalganj – the districts surrounding the capital – from Tuesday.
So, communications between Dhaka and other parts of the country have been cut off.
Businesses in bordering areas
Businesses in Jashore, the trading hub of the southwestern region of the country, having the largest border with India, suffered a loss of more than Tk2,000 crore over the last one year.
Traders said they could not recover from their previous losses, and the episode starting from the enforcement of the new lockdown from 16 June would worsen their situation.
The country's largest trading and manufacturing markets of motor spare parts in Jashore have remained closed, along with clothing shops, hotels and restaurants.
Shahinur Hossain Thandu, president of Jashore Motor Parts Business Association, said at least Tk3,000 crore was transacted there every year.
Traders do business with bank loans and most of them have lost their capital. "The new lockdown threatens the future of thousands of businessmen," Shahinur said.
Akhter Hossain, owner of Enayet Engineering, a manufacturer of car parts, said there had been hardly any buyers during the pandemic, making it difficult to continue paying electricity bills and salaries to the employees.
"That is why we have halted production amid the new lockdown."
About 118 factories of Jashore BSCIC (Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industry Corporation) have fallen into a similar crisis. Producers and wholesale traders are not getting orders as the local market is closed and people are not allowed to enter the district from outside. Some producers have already shut down their factories.
Small and medium entrepreneurs in 20 other districts and in the surrounding areas are also having a tough time because of lockdown.
Clothing hub comes to a standstill
The shutting down of Gausia, the country's largest wholesale clothing market located at Bhulta beside the Dhaka-Sylhet highway just 24 km from the capital, has alarmed thousands of traders and weavers.
The market that sits twice a week sees transactions of more than Tk100 crore every week. Manufacturers from the surrounding districts bring handloom clothes, boutiques and jamdani to sell in the market.
"Some 3,000 traders of the market, who are doing business by taking out loans, are going to lose everything," said Abdul Malek, general secretary of the Gausia Shop-Owners Welfare Association.
The recent lockdowns have halted business activities in the surrounding districts of Dhaka, including Narayanganj and Narsingdi.
In Narayanganj, 18 mobile courts have been ensuring compliance with the restrictions, as per the directives of the deputy commissioner.
Eight lakh weavers in Sirajganj and Tangail were already in a dire strait due to the price hike of yarn, dyes and chemicals. Now, they are not getting orders.
President of the National Weavers Association Monowar Hossain said the cost of making clothes doubled and weavers were about to close their factories because they were unable to sell their products.
"It is not possible for these weavers to survive without emergency support from the government," he added.
Mango farmers fear big losses
Mango farmers in Rajshahi are fearing big losses as lockdown has coincided with the peak season of the summer fruit.
A lack of buyers forces them to sell mangoes at a cheaper rate, incurring losses though the transportation of goods is normal.
According to Osman Ali, the lessee of Baneshwar Bazar in Rajshahi, 2,500 to 3,000 tonnes of mangoes were sold every day during the peak season.
Traders in the market are selling mangoes online as people cannot travel but online orders do not ensure sales of more than 30% of the total produce. Some of them also supply mangoes to Dhaka but they are paying farmers half the price since they do not have cash in hand.
Osman Ali said, "Himsagar mango was sold at Tk2,200 to Tk2,300 per mound in the Baneshwar market around this time last year but this time the price has come down to Tk1,500 to Tk1,700 a mound."
In the morning, if the price is Tk60 per kg, it becomes Tk30-35 by the afternoon.
Hotels, transport sectors in trouble again
The hotel-restaurant business in Rajshahi generally booms during the mango season. But this year they have hardly any guests.
Hotel Nur Mahal, located beside the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway, is almost devoid of customers due to the rising infection. Though Comilla is not within the purview of lockdown, the owner will have to close the hotel due to the absence of customers.
Maruf Hossain, manager of the hotel, said sales had dropped by 50% from the pre-pandemic level while the hotel had to keep on paying 20 employees to run it.
"The hotel will have to be closed tomorrow (Wednesday) as buses are not running on the highway now."
Like Nur Mahal in Comilla, thousands of hotels and restaurants standing beside the highways across the country are facing a similar fate.
The suspension of communication has also snatched income opportunities from five million people involved in the transport sector.
Khandaker Enayet Ullah, general secretary of Bangladesh Bus Owners Association, said the sector had suffered a daily loss of Tk500 crore during the first lockdown [from March through May last year].
"Workers lived an inhuman life. Some losses were recovered after the reopening of the sector maintaining health guidelines. The new lockdown is threatening us again."