NEW DELHI/DHAKA (Reuters) - More than 500 garment factories in Bangladesh that supply to global brands reopened on Monday after a month-long shutdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, while India considered ways to scale back its vast lockdown to reduce economic pain.
Some of the world’s biggest clothing firms including Gap Inc, Zara-owner Inditex and H&M source their supplies from Bangladesh, which allowed garment manufacturers in the capital Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong to resume work from the start of this week.
“We are making sure the workers wear masks, wash hands at the entrance, undergo temperature checks, and maintain physical distancing,” said Mohammad Hatem, vice president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Bangladesh is home to around 4,000 garment factories employing 4.1 million workers, and industry groups for the sector had warned that the shutdown that began on March 26 could cause the country to lose $6 billion in export revenue this financial year.
Competitors such as Vietnam, China and Cambodia have already resumed operations, Hatem said.
Bangladesh reported nearly 500 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday to take the total to 5,913 of whom 152 have died.
While the country has allowed garment and other factories to reopen, much of the rest of the economy is still shut down and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told government officials on Monday that schools and colleges may have to remain closed until September if the situation did not improve.
“We will reopen educational institutions when the situation improves,” she said.
INDIA SAYS VIRUS FAR FROM OVER
In India, where a strict shutdown for its 1.3 billion people is due to end on May 3, Prime Minister Narendra held talks with the chief ministers of the country’s 28 states to decide on what restrictions should be kept in place.
Modi said the risk from the virus was far from over, although India had been able to save thousands of lives because of its extended lockdown, a government statement quoted him as saying.
India has reported 28,379 confirmed infections of the coronavirus, according to government data on Monday, the highest number in Asia after China. So far 886 people have died, nowhere near the levels the United States, Italy and Spain have suffered.
Health experts say India is testing far less per capita than many countries and the virus is lurking undetected. Still, a surge in hospitalisations has not happened across the country, strengthening the case for lifting some curbs.
“(The) Prime Minister said that we have to give importance to the economy as well as continue the fight against COVID -19,” the government statement said.
India’s economy, which was already growing at its slowest pace in years before the pandemic struck, could contract in the fiscal year that began in April, private economists say, making jobs even more scarce for its young population.
One way out of the 40-day lockdown would be to allow the least-affected parts of the country to return to activity while keeping a tight lid on hot zones which include major cities Mumbai and Delhi, officials said.
Neighbouring Pakistan also sought to reduce the economic pain, saying it will pay the electricity bills for 3.5 million small businesses for the next three months as part of a 50.69 billion rupees ($316.56 million) package.
The government has extended a nationwide lockdown until May 9. However, it is switching to a “smart lockdown” with targeted tracking and tracing of cases while allowing some industrial and commercial activities to resume under safety guidelines.
The outbreak continued to spread through the Indian Ocean island nations of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
Sri Lanka reported 45 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, all of them navy personnel, after it surfaced in a base near the capital Colombo earlier this month. A quarter of the country’s 567 cases are from the navy, according to government figures.
The Maldives also reported a spike in cases, mostly among migrant workers living in packed dormitories in the capital Male. The country has 200 confirmed cases, the government said, a large number of them Bangladeshi migrant workers.
Here are official government figures on the spread of the coronavirus in South Asia:
* India has reported 28,379 cases, including 886 deaths
* Pakistan has reported 13,328 cases, including 281 deaths
* Afghanistan has reported 1,703 cases, including 57 deaths
* Sri Lanka has reported 567 cases, including seven deaths
* Bangladesh has reported 5,416 cases, including 145 deaths
* Maldives has reported 200 cases and no deaths
* Nepal has reported 52 cases and no deaths
* Bhutan has reported seven cases and no deaths
($1 = 160.1300 Pakistani rupees)
Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar, Nigam Prusty in New Delhi, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Mohamed Junayd in Male, Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Susan Fenton
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