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Pak army enforces China’s zero-COVID restrictions at BRI power plant in Karachi

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Islamabad [Pakistan], October 16 (ANI): While Pakistan lifted all its COVID-19-related restrictions in March this year, its army is enforcing China’s zero-COVID restrictions at Belt and Road Initiative power plant in Karachi.

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, effectively putting thousands of workers in lockdown and separating them from their families, reported ABC News.

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

“Many of us had developed suicidal thoughts, and we are treated like prisoners.”

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, reported ABC News.

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,” Zhao said.

He said another coal-fired power plant operated by a Chinese company in Pakistan was also in lockdown, and this was not unusual, reported ABC News.

The Chinese companies’ policy mirrors Beijing’s domestic zero-COVID policy, which resulted in tens of millions of people being put into lockdown in megacities like Shanghai and Chengdu.

ABC Investigations has learned at least three Chinese companies running the BRI projects around the world are enforcing tough COVID-19 policies.

At another BRI project in Pakistan, the Saindak Copper-Gold Mine in Balochistan, at least 1,000 workers have been stopped by Chinese company MCC Resources Development Limited from leaving its mine site for several months.

In March, family members of the affected workers, mostly women and children, staged a march, demanding change to the draconian policy and to allow freedom of movement, reported ABC News.

One year earlier and 10,000 kilometres away, in Zimbabwe, energy workers complained about the same COVID-19 policy at another PowerChina subsidiary, Sinohydro’s coal-fired power plant in Hwange.

Wang Yaqiu, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Beijing’s COVID-19 policy was “abusive” and “a symptom of a top-down, rigid political system that disregards experts’ opinion, community concerns and individual’s human rights”.

The Chinese state-owned enterprise hired about 500 Pakistani workers, mostly from Karachi and its surrounding townships and villages.

However, since the zero-COVID policy was implemented in 2020, many workers have been unable to leave the plant. They told ABC Investigations they feared losing their jobs if they asked to go outside.

Since the pandemic, Pakistan’s unemployment rate rose to 6.5 per cent in 2021. More than 31 per cent of Pakistan’s youth are currently unemployed, according to research.

Moreover, workers returning to the plant claim they are subjected to prolonged isolation periods without payment.

The quarantine rooms are located near a guarded entrance to the site, near two cooling towers with the PowerChina logo.

ABC Investigations obtained footage from inside the quarantine facility and its surrounds.

Inside, up to eight workers sleep in crowded rooms on bunk beds without mattresses and rain leaks through the roof.

Outside, uncollected rubbish is strewn on the ground and in dirty water that surrounds the compound. Quarantined workers claim the living conditions inside the quarantine facility are “inhumane”.

“There was no electricity for 48 hours. There was no drinking water. There is no water in the washrooms,” said one worker, who was subjected to 40 days of quarantine after spending 45 days outside with his family.

Another video shows the power plant’s canteen kitchen with food and cookware infested by cockroaches.

Workers claim the poor living conditions have made several workers ill, and that there is no medical support available inside the complex. (ANI)

This report is auto-generated from ANI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

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