The spread of the coronavirus across Asia is putting the brakes on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, with dozens of infrastructure projects slowed or halted entirely due to limitations on supplies and travel.
Nearly 60 countries have confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, late last year. Since then, China has imposed quarantines and limited travel to contain the disease, while dozens of nations around the world having imposed entry restrictions on Chinese citizens and those who recently visited the country. As a result, many workers who traveled home for Lunar New Year celebrations in January have been either unable to return to their projects, or face weeks-long quarantines as a condition for re-entering the country.
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With the growing impacts, managers of road, bridge, hydroelectric and communications projects across Asia are having to make do with limited staff and material resources.
Indonesia’s $6-billion Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail line is being delayed by the absence of approximately 300 senior-level workers. Though the project has been able to acquire steel and concrete, disruptions to China’s industrial and manufacturing sector have slowed the supply of critical support materials such as pipes and waterproofing.
In Bangladesh, a $3.5-billion, 3.8-mile-long road and rail bridge across the Padma River is getting by with only two-thirds of its 980-person Chinese workforce. The country has also reportedly stopped issuing visas to Chinese visitors, including construction project workers.
Even when Chinese project workers are able to return, however, they frequently face constant medical scrutiny and hesitant local colleagues.
Workers at the Port City project in Colombo, Sri Lanka, reportedly have their temperatures taken regularly throughout the day, and have been supplied with masks and hand sanitizers.
China’s Belt and Road infrastructure projects in Africa appear so far to be less affected by personnel and travel issues, but still face delays and limited availability of construction equipment and materials.