Almost all garment workers in Gazipur are wearing masks and washing their hands before entering the factories. It was not a very common scene just weeks ago, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it possible.
Apparel makers have made available thermal scanners (for measuring temperature), masks, hand wash and sanitisers for workers to curb the spread of the virus in readymade garment (RMG) factories.
These factories are also running awareness campaigns through hourly announcements, distributing leaflets and holding weekly health meetings with workers.
At least 4.1 million people are currently working at around 4,500 factories in Bangladesh. The country's export revenue was $34 billion in the last fiscal year.
"We are going to the factory with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic," said Halima Khantun, an operator of Rupa Knitwear Private Ltd, a concern of Rupa Group located at Kunia, Gazipur.
She also mentioned that the company has provided masks to everyone and made available all necessary facilities such as hand washing.
The Business Standard visited a dozen apparel factories in Gazipur area on Saturday and found that workers are still going to their workplaces despite many offices in Dhaka launching a work-from-home policy to curb the spread of coronavirus, formally known as Covid-19.
"All cautionary measures are being taken during the workers' entry to the factory. We are checking their temperature, asking them to wash hands thoroughly and providing them with masks," said Parvez Ahmed, head of human resource and administration at Hop Lun Apparels Ltd, a foreign company that makes lingerie.
This factory has around 7,000 workers, and of them, over 96 percent were present Saturday, he added.
"As a foreign factory, we have started this practice since the very beginning of January, when the coronavirus outbreak began in China," said Parvez.
Mostafiz Uddin, managing director of Chattogram's Karnaphuli EPZ-based Denim Expert Ltd, said they are focusing on building awareness among the workers and providing them with personal safety equipment.
"As an apparel factory is a highly labour-concentrated workplace, we want to ensure that everyone is safe in our factory," he said, adding, "The coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping throughout the world is having a drastic effect on everyone's lives.
"Presently, it is the biggest challenge the global community has faced for many years."
According to the Covid-19 monitoring cell of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a total of 264 garment factories have faced cancellations and withholding of orders worth over $607 million.
RMG leaders demand continued operation of factories
A number of labour leaders on Sunday asked the government to ensure continued operation of apparel factories by introducing adequate safety masseurs.
The leaders made the demand at a meeting with State Minister for Labour Begum Monnujan Sufian in Dhaka on Sunday.
At the meeting, Amirul Haque Amin, general secretary of the National Garment Workers Federation, said, "The government has asked the apparel industry owners to run their factories as usual instead of shutting those down.
"Industry people should strengthen safety measures for workers."
Razequzzaman Ratan, president of Socialist Labour Front, said, "The government should establish a monitoring cell to check the health condition of apparel workers during the coronavirus outbreak.
"Factory owners should check workers' body temperature when they enter and exit factories. If anyone is found showing symptoms of infection, the person should be separated from others for treatment. Sending a worker to home quarantine will increase the risk of more infections."
However, Bangladesh Garment Sramik Sanghati on Saturday night issued a joint statement demanding immediate shutdown of garments factories for a temporary period to protect workers from the coronavirus pandemic.
Sramik sanghati's President Taslima Akhter, General Secretary Julhas Nayeen Babu and Organising Secretary Aminul Islam Shama issued the statement, urging the authorities concerned to ensure the continuation of workers' facilities, including their wages.
All educational institutions have already been closed, and instructions have been given to vacate university halls. Meetings and public gatherings, including sporting events, have been restricted due to the spread of the coronavirus.