Update on COVID-19 Safety and Awareness

by Dave Lesser
6 months ago

As we reported last week the government in Bangladesh has imposed strict lockdown conditions throughout the country to curb the spread of COVID-19. It seems those lockdown conditions will now remain in place for at least another week. Garment factories, however, will continue operating amid the urging of some that it is crucial for the economy to allow factories to stay open for business.

Just this past month MFO and SANEM surveyed the respondents in our study again to get a status update on COVID-19 safety and awareness inside and outside the factories. This being an appropriate time to share that data, we’ll highlight which measures have slackened, which have increased, and also take a look at how workers are getting their COVID-19 information.

Additionally, since the roll-out of vaccine availability in Bangladesh we’ve been asking respondents if they’ve received a shot. We’ll briefly discuss those data in anticipation of an expanded set of questions we are set to ask respondents about their awareness of and willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Note: Banner photo courtesy of a garment worker in Dhaka

COVID-19 Safety Precautions

During our last update on COVID-19 safety in December 2020, when we compared responses we’d received that month to the first such responses we received in May 2020, we saw a slight loosening up of safety precautions both inside and outside the factory. Comparing the December 2020 responses to the March 2021 responses, the prevalence of precautions being put into action remains about the same for the most part. But there were some shifts in reported behavior and factory safety measures worth mentioning:

  • 52% of respondents reported the use of queue markers in use at their factories when waiting in line, an increase of 14 percentage points from December 2020

  • 31% of respondents report always wearing a mask, a decrease of 11 percentage points from December 2020

  • 4% of respondents said they hardly go outside, a decrease of 11 percentage points from December

  • 2% of respondents said they avoid crowds, a decrease of 15 percentage points from December 2020

Safety & Sanitization Measure

May-20

Dec-20

Mar-21

Temperature checks

88%

84%

85%

Hand washing or sanitizing made mandatory upon entering the factory

89%

85%

85%

Sanitizing stations placed in the factory

63%

56%

60%

Sanitizing hand rub dispensers placed in the factory

49%

38%

35%

Sanitizing dispensers regularly refilled

98%

81%

82%

Hand washing stations have adequate soap and water

98%

91%

93%

Mandatory for visitors to factories to wash their hands before entering

66%

39%

39%

Visual instructions on proper hand washing & sanitizing

49%

36%

40%

Surfaces regularly cleaned and wiped down

60%

36%

35%

Additional cleaning staff hired

44%

27%

27%

 

Social Distancing & Traffic Control Measure

May-20

Dec-20

Mar-21

Workers can maintain two meters distance from one another while working

83%

77%

82%

Sanitization stations are at least one meter apart from each other

93%

86%

86%

Factory has established separate entry and exit points

36%

37%

32%

Factory has taken steps to ensure social distancing at entry/exit points and at workstations

76%

53%

54%

Use of queue marks in factories to maintain social distance while standing in line

68%

38%

52%

Rotating work hours with different shifts

35%

17%

22%

Rotating lunch breaks and work breaks

31%

18%

15%

 

COVID-19 Awareness and Workplace Comfort

Compared to the responses we received in December 2020, garment workers in March 2021 seemed to be learning a bit more about COVID-19 from their factories, and from their community:

  • 67% of respondents reported receiving information about COVID-19 at the factory over a loudspeaker announcement, an increase of 19 percentage points from December 2020

  • 64% of respondents reported receiving information about COVID-19 from their friends and family, an increase of 11 percentage points from December 2020

  • 55% of respondents reported receiving information from their factory employer about what to do if they exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, an increase of 8 percentage points from December 2020

The recommendations workers are receiving from their employers about what to do if they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms has changed somewhat since December 2020, however. From the data, it seems employers are telling their workers with less frequency that they should wear masks, wash their hands, quarantine, or get tested for COVID-19. But employers are telling their workers with more frequency that they should visit a doctor if experiencing symptoms. Staying home remains the second-most frequent recommendation for coping with COVID-19 symptoms.

The share of workers reporting that they they would feel safe telling management that they felt sick was roughly the same in March 2021 (86%) as it was in December 2020 (83%). However, among those in March who wouldn’t feel safe, their reasoning changed (respondents could select more than one reason):

  • 85% of those workers who wouldn’t feel safe reporting an illness to their employer said it was due to fear of losing their job, a decrease of 10 percentage points since December 2020

  • 30% of those workers who wouldn’t feel safe reporting an illness to their employer said it was due to fear of discrimination from other workers, an increase of 18 percentage points since December 2020

Vaccination Rates

Since mid-January 2021 we’ve been asking respondents every week if they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. As of mid-April 2021, only 22 respondents have reported receiving a vaccine. That represents less than 2% of our study sample.

As stated above, we’ll be asking garment workers next week what they know about vaccine eligibility, access and whether they would get vaccinated if offered the chance. If they would turn down the opportunity, we’ll ask them why. We’ll also be including a few more questions about the lockdown in general, including questions about their work commute and their ability to move around their cities.

    The data presented here come from two sets of interviews conducted over the phone with two pools of 1,296 workers and 1,287 workers, of whom 1,135 workers from each pool said they had gone to work at any point since April 2020. These workers are employed in factories spread across the five main industrial areas of Bangladesh (Chittagong, Dhaka City, Gazipur, Narayanganj, and Savar). Just over three-quarters of the working respondents are women, roughly representative of workers in the sector as a whole.