When women at a Sri Lankan garment factory started to develop coughs and fevers, few took it seriously — the South Asian island had few cases of the coronavirus and the onset of the rainy season meant colds were to be expected.

Staff who fell ill saw the company doctor, but many went back to the production line having being told that the factory's owner Brandix, which makes clothes for brands including Gap, Victoria's Secret, and Marks & Spencer, had orders to fulfil.

Now, the district of Gampaha, where the factory is located, is at the center of Sri Lanka's biggest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 7,000 cases — over half the national total.

Sri Lanka's attorney general has ordered an investigation into whether the apparent spread of the disease from the factory could have been prevented, saying it "endangered human life."

Finance chief Hasitha Premaratnhe said its initial findings were that staff with a fever were sent home or taken to hospital, and it would take "appropriate action" if this was found to be wrong.

But workers and trade union officials who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation said some of those who fell sick were asked to carry on working and others said they were given proper protective health (PPE) equipment.

"Some even fainted, but the company doctor gave basic medicines. All these sick women worked again, though they had some difficulties," said one worker who asked not to be named, fearing repercussions for speaking out.

"We never suspected it was corona because everybody was complacent and employees shared their meals and did not wear masks inside the plant."

Read the full article about garment workers in Sri Lanka from Thomson Reuters Foundation's Shihar Aneez at Global Citizen.