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7 Dec 2022

Echo Hui, ABC (Australia)

Pakistan: Army enforces China’s zero-COVID restrictions at Belt and Road Initiative power plant

"Pakistan Army enforces China’s zero-COVID restrictions at Belt and Road Initiative power plant" 14 October 2022

Key points:

  • PowerChina says zero-COVID restrictions are in place at its plant near Karachi for the health of its workers
  • The company has thanked the Pakistan Army for its support in enforcing the restrictions
  • Workers at the plant told the ABC of being required to isolate for weeks in "inhumane" conditions without pay

Chinese state-owned enterprises operating flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects are enforcing Beijing's harsh COVID-19 restrictions across Asian and African countries, effectively putting thousands of workers in lockdown and separating them from their families.

The latest flashpoint is Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, where hundreds of workers have been ordered not to leave a multi-billion-dollar power plant without permission since March 2020.

That policy is being enforced with the assistance of the Pakistan Army.

"We are not allowed to go home, meet with our loved ones, celebrate our religious or cultural festivals or pursue further education," said Yusuf*, a Pakistani engineer who is working on the project. [...]

The policy is so strictly enforced, the company operating the plant has been unable to hire any local doctors to live on-site to treat sick workers, because Pakistani doctors are unwilling to accept the restrictions.

A local branch of PowerChina — the world's biggest power construction company, with more than 80 subsidiaries around the globe — operates the plant. [...]

The company, in a letter to Pakistan's National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, admitted "the management of the project immediately carried out the lockdown in the plant since March 2020", but said that it allowed the employees "to enter or leave the plant for regular holidays all the time".

It explained: "Lockdown is the most-effective measure to ensure the situation [is] always under control but with the lowest cost."

Zhao Tao, a director of the administration department for PowerChina's local subsidiary, told the ABC the company had given workers extra bonuses for staying inside.

"We are implementing the zero-COVID policy for the health of our workers," Mr Zhao said. [...]