Clothes manufacturers in Leicester are refusing to follow lockdown rules, saying they cannot afford to close again.
The city was put into a local lockdown this week after health secretary Matt Hancock revealed there were more than 800 new coronavirus cases in the area in the last two weeks – three times higher than the rate in the next highest area.
But several factory bosses told MailOnline they have had little guidance from the Government as to whether they should close – so say they will be staying open as they can’t afford to close again.
Asim Ali, 34, manager of Fazia Fashion which is located in the lockdown area, said: ‘We haven’t had any guidance from the Government or local authority on if we should close or remain open.
‘But to be honest, we lost so much money during the first lockdown that we cannot afford to close. It would be a disaster for the company and our workers. So, we will remain open, regardless of what the authorities tell us.’
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The company employs 35 people and most of them were stitching clothes for an order which had to be completed by the end of this week. Not all were wearing masks or gloves, while others did not maintain social distance.
Dozens of small to medium sized units making clothes for leading high street and online companies operate in the city’s lockdown area, where rates of Covid-19 are highest.
Leicester has the largest number of garment workers in the UK and there are 1,500 garment manufacturing businesses in the city employing around 10,000 people.
The majority of workers are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and are at greater risk of contracting coronavirus, or dying from it.
Mr Ali said: ‘Our workers are predominantly South Asian, and they know the risks they are taking because they are most at risk of catching coronavirus. But what can they do? They are not rich people and need this money to survive.’
He admitted the company reopened before it was supposed to during the first lockdown, shutting down for only four weeks.
‘We lost around £20,000 per week during that period and had to reopen early. Our workers also wanted to come back. Orders have started picking up again but now this second lockdown has ruined things,’ he added.
Richu Uppal, owner of Cute Girl, which specialises in making clothes for young women said that the company employs 12 people and would continue to operate.
She added: ‘We might be getting some help from the Government but financially, we are in big trouble and so are our workers. We only closed for four weeks during the first lockdown.
‘I know coronavirus can kill but so can hunger and that’s why all of us need to continue working.’
Many of the workers inside the small, cramped factory where it was unbearably hot were unable to socially distance, while none were wearing face masks or gloves.
Officials have already voiced concerns that one of the reasons for Leicester’s coronavirus spike may be the poor conditions garment workers have to face with little social distancing or PPE provided for them, and poor ventilation.
Mohmed Talati, 55, who runs 21 F.C, which specialises in cutting material for garment factories said: ‘We’ll continue to stay open because the factories are going to operate through this lockdown.
‘While that happens, they’ll need material cut for them. There has been very little guidance or advice provided to us. Nobody is sure if we are essential or non-essential and most people have taken the decision to continue operating.’
The manager of Easy Fit, which manufactures women’s clothes said: ‘We closed during the first lockdown for four weeks. After that we had to open, even though we weren’t supposed to.
‘Business was slowly returning to normal and now we have this problem. But we can’t afford to close, and our staff can’t afford not to work. It’s as simple as that.’
Councillor Rashmikant Joshi, who represents the North Evington ward, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Leicester and is home to dozens of garment factories said: ‘We are still waiting for all the statistics to completely understand what is behind this increase in coronavirus infections.
‘But the working conditions of many people in Leicester are not good, particularly those who work in the garment industry. I’m in little doubt that this is a contributory factor to the huge surge that we are witnessing.’
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