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50,000 FTZ workers at risk of COVID-19 exposure in Sri Laka: activist

ECONOMYNEXT – Over 50,000 of Sri Lanka’s free trade zone (FTZ) workers are at risk of exposure to COVID-19 as a result of the unexpected Brandix apparel factory cluster which at last count was at 1,034 confirmed cases.

Programme Coordinator of Dabindu Collective Chamila Thushari told EconomyNext that despite the prevalent situation in the country, factories in the Katunayake FTZ have pressured employees into reporting to work.

“There are about 84 companies in the FTZ employing about 50,000 people. This will cause the virus to spread in the entire FTZ, risking the health of all employees.” she said, stopping short of naming the companies.

Curfew has yet to be imposed in Katunayake, while a number of areas in Gampaha are currently under police curfew in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“If they lock down Katunayaka, they have to lock down the free trade zone too. Despite the situation, people working in those factories haven’t been given leave,” said Thushari.

“The same thing happened during the last lockdown. They did not give leave to anyone in the FTZ and in the end they all got stuck in Colombo without a job or a place to stay until the government stepped in to get them out,” she added.

Thushari said the authorities and companies operating in the FTZ should take charge of the situation and act accordingly to prevent further spread.

The activist, who represents a non-profit organisation that advocates and promotes women workers’ rights in the Katunayake FTZ and other industrial areas of the country, also highlighted issues attributed to Manpower employees who worked in the FTZ.

“There is a great risk of the virus spreading through them,” she said.

Manpower Sri Lanka is a recruitment agency whose employees work as cleaners and maintenance staff at the FTZ.

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Thushari called for PCR tests in hostels where a majority of the apparel factory workers of different companies reside.

“There are situations where husband and wife work in two different factories. It can also spread through them,” she said.

“Also these factories exchange samples with other factories, so all those workers visit several factories as part of their job. Employees of the Minuwangoda Brandix plant live in hostels in Katunayaka. In those hostels there are employees from other companies, so it can spread to other companies as well,” she added.

Thushari called on health authorities to expand ongoing testing to other factories in the FTZ.

“We also ask these companies not to behave the way they did the first time. They should take responsibility this time,” she said.

Thushari added the female patient that was found at the Bandaranayaka International Airport also lives in a hostel in the Minuwangoda area where several other positive cases have been identified.

Meanwhile, the National Operation Centre for Prevention of Covid 19 said the female patient found at the BIA was working in the Cargo Department. However, authorities are still searching for the source of the infection.

The cluster in Minuwangoda Brandix plant increased to 1,034 with 202 new positive cases identified by the health officials.

Chief Epidemiologist of the Epidemiology Unit Doctor Sudath Saraweera said PCR tests of all the employees in the Minuwangoda Brandix apparel plant have been

completed and health officials are continuing to test close contacts of the employees and residences in the Minuwangoda area.

Three new Covid 19 Positive patients were identified by the health authorities in Sri Lanka today: a pregnant woman from the Castle Street Hospital, a 55-year-old male who was working in the cafeteria of the Minuwangoda police station who has been identified as the father of an employee of the Minuwangoda Brandix had also tested positive for the virus, and a 26-year-old female from Ja-Ela who works at the Commercial leasing and Finance PLC Minuwangoda branch.

Samaraweera said the pregnant woman found in Castle street Hospital was working for a service providing company that traces back to the Minuwangoda Brandix plant cluster. He added that the PCR test of the service providing companie’s employees will be carried out within the day.

He further said hospitals in Minuwangoda, Welikanda, Iranawila, Rambukkana, Kamburugamuwa, Kattankudi, Hambanthota, Theldeniya, Mulleriyawa, Infectious Diseases Hospital and Navil Fernando Hospital have been taken over by the health services department to treat COVID-19 patients while hospitals In Homagama, Ambalpola and Laggala, Pallegama have also been prepared to treat COVID-19 patients. (Colombo/Oct08/2020)

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