Coronavirus could delay major Chinese projects in Bangladesh and other countries

With hundreds of Chinese engineers and workers stuck at home in China amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak, project officials in Bangladesh have said major infrastructure schemes being carried out by Chinese firms there could be delayed.

The projects include the Padma Bridge (pictured), Padma Bridge Rail Link, the Payra Thermal Power Plant, a railway from Chittagong to Cox’s Bazar, a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river, and the upgrading of the Dhaka Bypass Road.

Many workers returned home to China for the long Lunar New Year holiday during the early stages of the outbreak and, with travel restrictions hardening within China and around the world, it is unclear when they might return.

Today, China’s envoy to the UN said the number of confirmed cases had risen to 9,809, and the number of deaths stood at 213.

Those numbers are up from two days ago, when there were 4,537 confirmed cases in China and 132 deaths there. Yesterday the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a global public health emergency (see below).

Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury, project director of the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, told Bangladesh newspaper Daily Star that almost half of the Chinese officials, engineers and workers involved in the project went on leave.

"We are discussing the [coronavirus] issue, but haven’t made any decision," he said, adding: "The project may be hampered a little [if the situation does not improve]."

An official told the newspaper that some 800 Chinese nationals work on the project.

Around 2,200 Chinese nationals are working on the 1320MW Payra Thermal Power Plant, and around 40% of them went home on leave or left on completion of their jobs, a manager told the newspaper.

The company building the plant, Bangladesh China Power Company, has extended the leave of several hundred Chinese employees by one week, and may extend that period if the situation doesn’t improve.

  • GCR analysis: Bangladesh is the first country to report construction issues pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak, but with Chinese contractors building infrastructure in many Asian and African countries, and with the outbreak yet to peak, we might expect similar reports from other countries. Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Vietnam are among those to watch.

The state of travel restrictions in and out of China is currently in flux.

China has locked down at least 16 cities and has stopped its citizens from booking overseas tours. 

Singapore just banned entry to Chinese nationals, following Russia’s move to close its border with China. 

Major airlines based in Europe, Asia and North America are cancelling flights to and from China. 

The World Health Organisation’s stance is shifting. Yesterday the UN body elevated the outbreak to a global public health emergency, but did not recommend travel or trade restrictions.

At the same time, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it." 

Image: Bangladesh’s Padma Bridge under construction in August 2019 (Riads08/CC BY-SA 4.0) 

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