The Stream

Coronavirus: Is Bangladesh putting its economy before people?

Government maintains lockdown for majority of population but allows export-led textile factories to restart.

On Tuesday, May 5 at 19:30 GMT:
As cases of coronavirus infection continue to mount across Bangladesh, the government is trying to limit the spread of the virus through a national lockdown while also preventing the country’s export-dependent economy from going into freefall.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bangladesh have passed 10,000, with many dying from the disease, but the true number of cases is thought to be considerably higher due to a lack of testing. The country’s 161 million-strong population has been ordered to stay off the streets until at least May 16. Families across the country, many of whom rely on the wages of sole earners who can no longer work, are now hoping they will eventually receive some direct government assistance.

Yet, the machines at Bangladesh’s garment factories have started to turn again. On Monday, thousands of workers returned to the production line after the government permitted textile factories that generate 80 percent of the country’s exports to restart. Business leaders have welcomed the decision, but labour rights activists want greater protection for employees who now face working together at close quarters during a time of unprecedented risk to their health. 

Health professionals are concerned that Bangladesh could soon see a spike in infections that undermines the purpose of the lockdown. Virologists have noted a lack of testing that would give a clearer picture of the true number of coronavirus infections. Challenges to the country’s already-overburdened healthcare system are being exacerbated by a string of COVID-19 cases among doctors.

The Stream will look at what lies ahead for Bangladesh as it walks a fine line between propping up the economy and protecting public health. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream we are joined by:
Anir Chowdhury, @anirchowdhury
Policy adviser, a2i innovation programme of the Bangladeshi government and the UN Development Programme

Dr. Bardan Rana, @WHOSEARO
World Health Organization representative to Bangladesh

Rubana Huq @Rubanahuq
Managing Director, Mohammadi Group 

Read more:
Do not push Rohingya out to sea amid coronavirus emergency: UNHCR – Al Jazeera 
In pictures: The effects of coronavirus lockdown in Bangladesh – Al Jazeera