BEIJING: Gwadar Port, a major project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is functioning well despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
The comments came as some reports in Western media suggested Chinese teams’ are unable to return to their posts amid the pandemic, which is stalling many Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, Global Times reported.
A large number of projects under the BRI, like the one in Gwadar, employ a limited number of Chinese staff and rely on local employees for most roles.
According to the latest head count, there are two Chinese employees and 140 Pakistani employees working at Gwadar Port.
“The port is functioning well. Chinese workers have returned to their posts, having completed their 14-day self-imposed quarantine,” a source close to senior management at the port’s operator told the Global Times.
“The port’s operations have not halted. That’s the nature of our business. We take turns to have some holidays,” the source said.
However, the source added that while there is no negative impact on its operations, the port cannot remain unaffected by the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on global shipping.
“Many ships drop by Gwadar after visiting a number of other ports first, and with global shipping being disrupted by the pandemic, there has been quite some re-routing and this has affected the port,” said the source.
Located in southwest province of Balochistan, Gwadar Port began to play a new role as economical transit stop and time-saving trade port for land-locked Afghanistan when it shipped fertilizer in January.
As Pakistan entered lockdown last week, the port followed relevant rules and put on hold some of the projects in the nearby Free Trade Zone.
Construction of a steel tube factory has been halted and a business center has been closed as precautions to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading. Business development to attract foreign investors has also come to a temporary halt.
The port itself has been sealed off to outsiders and the number of non-essential visits has been cut to a minimum.
However, the pandemic is unlikely to have a long-term impact on the port’s development, which is measured on a scale of years rather than months.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a recent interview with the Global Times that CPEC construction won’t be impacted in the long run, although in the short run it could face some slowdown.
“As soon as we are over the hump of dealing with the coronavirus, I think we’ll be back on track,” Qureshi said. “After the temporary dip, things will come back quickly. And the entire region stands to benefit from the projects.”