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Mega projects threatened by coronavirus outbreak

  • Published at 11:58 pm February 5th, 2020
Padma Bridge
Implementation of several development projects in Bangladesh, including Padma Bridge, are at risk of delay since these projects involve a significant number of Chinese employees, many of whom went home to celebrate the Lunar New Year and are now stuck in China due to a travel ban caused by the 2019-nCoV outbreak Dhaka Tribune

Costs to soar as projects likely to advance slowly

Bangladesh government is implementing 10 fast-track projects, half of those being progressed by the Chinese funds and technical assistance. 

Over 13,000 Chinese citizens including engineers, geologists, and technical officials are involved in these projects including the much-hyped Padma Bridge

It is feared that implementation of the projects might get slowed down if the coronavirus outbreak remains uncontrolled, thus, pushing up the project costs. 

On the issue, Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on Wednesday told reporters at the Secretariat that the construction of Padma Bridge work will be hampered if the coronavirus situation does not improve in two months.

The crisis arose as a number of Chinese went to their homeland to celebrate the Lunar New Year starting from January 30. 

But fearing possible spread of the virus through their return, Dhaka decided on Sunday to suspend on-arrival visas for Chinese nationals, following the deadly outbreak of the virus.

Hence, the progress of the projects may face challenges as many Chinese nationals are closely involved in the implementing process. 

Other than the fast-track projects, they are also tasked with some other development projects including the four-lane expressway of Dhaka Bypass Road.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal recently told the parliament that 85,486 foreigners are working in Bangladesh and of them, 13,268 are Chinese citizens.

Most importantly, half the Chinese people are engaged in the major development projects including Padma Bridge, Padma Rail Link, Payra Thermal Power Plant, Chittagong-Cox’s Bazar Rail Line, Karnaphuli Tunnel and Dhaka Bypass Expressway. 

The rest are mainly employed in the apparel sector, local government and urban development programmes.

The outbreak will take a heavy toll on the implementation of mega projects as a number of workers are stuck in China, said A T M Azizul Akil, senior vice president of Bangladesh-China Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). 

Plus, if the China fails to control the virus, the outbreak will also affect the supply of machinery and equipment necessary for those projects, he added. 

Padma Bridge

Some 980 Chinese are working at the Padma Bridge project and among them, 364 were on leave for their new year celebration. 

Of them, only 32 officials arrived lately in Dhaka, who are now under special care. 

Obaidul said: “Of the 32 returnees, eight have been released from quarantine and the rest are being quarantined."

Fearing the potential delay of the Padma Bridge project, its director Shafiqul Islam said: “We don’t know when rest of the officials will return. It implies that the projects engaging them will get slowed down and eventually lengthy.”

Karnaphuli Tunnel

Karnaphuli Tunnel in Chittagong is under construction engaging 230 Chinese people. But 70 of them got stuck in China failing to return to Bangladesh due to the viral outbreak.  

Contacted, Project Director Harun-or-Rashid said 70 officials were scheduled to return in Chittagong between late January and early February. 

Since their return has become uncertain, the project will get delayed, he concluded.   

Dhaka Bypass Expressway

The civil work of the Dhaka Bypass Expressway between Gazipur-Narayanganj is underway. Some 31 officials are working in the project. 

Sabuz Uddin Khan, director of Support to Joydevpur-Debogram-Bhulta-Madanpur Road (Dhaka Bypass) PPP Project said, “One third of the project staffs are under bar in China.” 

“Chinese have already been notified that they do not return from China until the Corona virus situation is normalized,” he added.  

Besides, 80 Chinese citizens work in Dohazari-Cox's Bazar-Ghumdhum rail line project. Of them, 31 are on leave and were supposed to return on Wednesday, according to Bangladesh Railway.  

Scenario in the power and energy sector

Around 4,000 Chinese people are employed in different projects under the Power Division, and a similar number of Chinese citizens work in the energy sector, said an official at the Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry.  

As many as 3,000 Chinese people work in a single project at the 1,360MW Payra Thermal Power Plant in Patuakhali, he said, adding, currently only 1,285 of them are at work.

The rest (1,715) Chinese workers, who went home to celebrate their Lunar New Year starting from January 25, will not be allowed to return until the situation in China improves, the official said, hinting at potential delay in completion of the second phase of the plant.

The first phase having 660MW electricity generation capacity went into a trial run on January 13. And the second phase with the same capacity is supposed to start operation in May.

However, Md Kamruzzaman Khan, managing director of Barapukuria Coal Mining Company Limited at Dinajpur, where some 300 Chinese citizens work, said the epidemic did not impact in their work place.

“Only five of the workers travelled from China late last month and was under medical observation for 15 days, before their rejoined us,” he said.

IEDCR says no coronavirus in Bangladesh yet

The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control, and Research (IEDCR) on Wednesday said the novel coronavirus has not infected anyone in Bangladesh until now, and there is no need for public alarm.

IEDCR took four samples from Wuhan returnees in the last 24 hours and none of them tested positive, IEDCR Director Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora said in a press conference at the IEDCR auditorium in Dhaka.

She said that currently 298 of the returnees from China’s Wuhan have been kept under observation at the Ashkona Haji Camp, 11 at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH), and three at Kurmitola General Hospital, but none of them has shown any symptoms of having the coronavirus.

Although not all directives of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the matter can be implemented due to technical difficulties, most of the necessary ones are being followed, she said.

Kohinur Khyum Tithila contributed to this story