Virus slows China’s major projects in Asia | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:28 AM, February 29, 2020

Virus slows China’s major projects in Asia

Outbreak cuts off labour supplies, equipment imports needed to keep them running

From an artificial island in Sri Lanka to a bridge in Bangladesh and hydropower projects in Nepal and Indonesia, China's trillion-dollar Belt and Road plan is stuttering under the effects of the deadly coronavirus.

The outbreak that emerged in China in late December and spread to dozens of countries has cut off the Chinese labour supplies and equipment imports needed to keep major infrastructure projects running.

More than 133 countries have imposed entry restrictions on Chinese citizens or people who have visited China to prevent the spread of the disease, data from China's National Immigration Agency showed.

China itself has imposed quarantines and travel curbs across the country to contain an epidemic that has killed more than 2,700 and infected around 79,000.

Sri Lanka requires 14-day quarantine for people arriving from China, and insists projects ensure Chinese staff are restricted to construction sites and their dorms.

At Colombo's Port City -- an artificial island the size of central London that is to house one of South Asia's biggest financial centres -- work was progressing at a snail's pace as nearly a third of the Chinese workers who left for the Lunar New Year holidays have not returned.

The March opening of South Asia's tallest free-standing communications tower -- built with Chinese state funding in the heart of Colombo -- has also been delayed by two months.

Bangladesh has stopped issuing visas to Chinese visitors including Chinese workers.

Some 3,000 Chinese workers are employed at the China-funded $2.5 billion 1,320-megawatt Bangladesh China Power Company at the southern port of Payra.

Nearly two-thirds of them had returned to China during the Lunar New Year in January, said project manager Abdul Moula.

"Our plan is to start full scale operation by next month. But if at least 300 Chinese workers don't come back by this month ... power production could be delayed," he said.

At the $3.5 billion Padma Multipurpose Bridge, being built by state-owned China Major Railway Bridge Company, nearly one-third of the 980 Chinese workers have yet to return, said project manager Dewan Abdul Kader.

On Indonesia's Sumatra island, work at the China-backed Batang Toru hydropower plant has ground to a halt due to a lack of Chinese workers, after Indonesia halted all flights to and from mainland China.

Construction of the $6 billion Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project will also be delayed, according to Indonesia's investment affairs minister Luhut Pandjaitan.

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