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Tiruppur garment units in TN stay shut amid Covid surge

Chennai: Garment manufacturing factories in Tiruppur district, which are involved in exports to various global markets, stopped all operations after they turned into Covid-19 hotspots with scores of employees testing positive for the infection
By Divya Chandrababu
PUBLISHED ON MAY 26, 2021 12:39 AM IST

Chennai: Garment manufacturing factories in Tiruppur district, which are involved in exports to various global markets, stopped all operations after they turned into Covid-19 hotspots with scores of employees testing positive for the infection.

The industry was exempted from the 15-day statewide lockdown, which came into force on May 10, and was allowed to function as a continuous process industry keeping in mind its export commitments.

However, with over 100 workers getting infected between late April and May 14, the garment sector voluntarily decided to shut operations and authorities also simultaneously closed down six units in a period of three days.

As Tamil Nadu extended the lockdown by another week on May 24 and intensified restrictions, it directed garment units to remain shut during this period.

On May 20, Tiruppur health authorities held a meeting with garment factory owners and related associations and urged them to suspend operations during the week.

“They cooperated and garment factories will continue to be closed this week,” a senior health official of Tiruppur said, preferring anonymity.

“The garment units had become a cluster so we had to demarcate the specific localities as containment zones,” the official added.

Even though garment manufacturers voluntarily decided to stop operations due to the rising cases, they raised concerns over the heavy losses the businesses suffered.

“It is endangering the industry. In a month, we export to the tune of 2,500 crore and our loss during this shutdown will be tantamount to that,” M Raja Shanmugam, president, Tiruppur Exporters Association (TEA), said.

“Our sampling process has to happen round-the-clock to satisfy the market which is design-driven. Without samples, we cannot get orders. We are going to be shut for a total of two weeks after which it will take time for operations to pick up. During the first wave, the entire world was affected but in the second wave, we are isolated while western markets have resumed normalcy, having inoculated their population. Due to the vaccine shortage, we haven’t been able to vaccinate our workers,” he added.

Shanmugam also refuted authorities’ claims that Covid-19 guidelines were not enforced for workers inside garment units. “We have been following standard operating procedures (SOPs) since May 6 last year and there was no outbreak,” Shanmugam said, adding: “Social events before the lockdown are what caused the spread.”

Tiruppur is home to about 15,000 garment units which are a mix of small and micro units without around 600,000 workers.

“Most of them are migrant workers and they have left home fearing the lockdown,” Viyakula Mary, executive director of Tirupur-based SAVE (Social Awareness and Voluntary Education), which works for promotion of fair labour standards, said.

In April, two days before their quarantine period after testing positive for Covid-19 ended, 16 migrant workers who were employed with a cotton mill left from Tiruppur to return to their native in Jharkhand.

“When testing capacity is low and the turn-around time for results is late even for those infected, the government could have put up camps in the localities of garment units and regularly checked workers for symptoms,” Mary said.

“There is no possibility for their isolation as at least five workers would live in a 10x10 room,” she added.

District health authorities said that they are increasing testing and changing the treatment protocol.

“The garment units were a hotspot and now since that is closed, our concern is to increase the number of samples tested, and we are starting basic medication for anyone who has any symptoms such as fever so that they don’t have to wait until they get tested or wait for results or a bed,” the health officials quoted above said.

As cases dip in Chennai which has the highest caseload in Tamil Nadu, state health authorities worry about the surge in smaller districts and cities, including Tiruppur, Coimbatore, Erode, Trichy and Madurai.

On Tuesday, Tiruppur reported 1,854 new cases and 25 deaths taking the total to 50,554 positive cases and 364 deaths.

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