China coronavirus outbreak: Bangladesh mega projects hampered as Chinese staff’s absence
12:00 AM, January 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:35 AM, January 29, 2020

Coronavirus Fallout: Mega projects may suffer for Chinese staff’s absence

Work on several mega development projects may be hampered if the situation over coronavirus does not improve soon.

Many Chinese nationals working under those projects are now home on leave to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Given the situation in China, they might not be able to return and join work on time, said officials linked to the projects.

They also said the authorities of one of the projects have extended the leave of several hundred Chinese nationals by a week and that there could be further extension. Besides, several other project authorities were mulling similar steps, they said.

The projects include Padma Bridge, Padma Bridge Rail Link, Payra 1320MW Thermal Power Plant, Chittagong to Cox’s Bazar (Ramu) Rail Link, construction of a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river, and upgrading the Dhaka Bypass Road.

The projects involved several Chinese companies and are being implemented under the Bridges Division, Bangladesh Railway, Power Division and Roads and Highways Department (RHD), the officials said.

The Daily Star could not confirm how many Chinese nationals are currently working at the projects or how many of them are in China on leave.

But officials in Dhaka say the projects employ “thousands of Chinese nationals, including officials, engineers and workers”.

Last week, many of them left for home to join the Chinese New Year celebrations that began on January 25. It is their longest holiday of the year.

Recently, China reported the outbreak of coronavirus, which until last night claimed more than 100 lives in the country.

The Chinese authorities have confirmed the presence of the deadly virus in almost all the provinces. Yesterday, the health authorities in the country announced that 4,515 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) had been reported in 30 provincial-level regions.

To prevent further spread of the virus, the authorities have locked down Wuhan city, the epicentre of the outbreak, and several other cities for two weeks. There are now strict transport restrictions in and out of those areas.

In Bangladesh, the government have directed the authorities concerned to screen anyone coming from China. In the last nine days, around 3,000 people were examined at the capital’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport after they arrived from China.

No coronavirus case has been detected in Bangladesh.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Dewan Abdul Kader, an executive engineer of the Padma Bridge Project, said about 1,100 Chinese nationals work at the Padma Bridge and related projects and at least 250 of them were on leave.

He said they asked the Chinese nationals not to go back to their workplace within two weeks from January 22.

Those in Bangladesh were asked not to visit China for now, he said. “We have made the decision taking the current situation into consideration.”

Golam Fakhruddin Ahmed Chowdhury, project director of the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, said 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.

Replying to a query, he said, “The project may be hampered a little [if the situation does not improve].”

Another official said some 800 Chinese nationals work are employed under the project.

The authorities of Bangladesh China Power Company Limited, which is constructing the 1320MW Payra Thermal Power Plant in Patuakhali, has extended the leave of several hundred Chinese employees by a week.

“The authorities may extend the leave further if the situation does not improve,” Shahid Ullah Bhuyan, manager (Facility) at the BCPCL, told The Daily Star yesterday.

He said around 2200 Chinese nationals, including officials and engineers, work under the project and around 40 percent of them either went on leave or left the workplace after the completion of a part of the project work.

Many, who are on leave, were supposed to return at the end of this month, but the project authorities extended the leave due to the situation in China, he added.

Shahid feared the leave extension would hamper the project activities.

Asked, Mofizur Rahman, director of another project involving Chinese nationals, said they were awaiting government decision in this regard. “We’ve asked them to take precautionary measures.”

The project is aimed at constructing a single line dual gauge railway track from Dohazari of Chattogram to Cox’s Bazar.

He said no employee from China returned to the worksite recently.

An RHD official linked to the Dhaka Bypass Road Project said only two of 50 Chinese nationals working in the project are now in Bangladesh.

 “They were supposed to return later this month or early next month. But in this situation, I think their return may be delayed,” he told this newspaper.

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