March 19, 2020 / 1:33 PM / in 9 days

Coronavirus hits migrant workers in Qatar

DUBAI (Reuters) - Qatar’s old industrial zone has emerged as a hot spot for the coronavirus in the Gulf Arab state, putting at risk many migrant workers who live and work in the area of car service centers, warehouses and small shops.

FILE PHOTO: General view of a empty kids playground, following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Doha, Qatar March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer

The tiny country, where expatriates comprise the majority of the population, on Thursday reported eight more infections to take its tally to 460, the highest number among the six Gulf Arab states that have reported a total of more than 1,300 coronavirus cases.

Government spokeswoman Lulwa Rashed al-Khater told a news conference that the new cases included two Qataris who had been in Europe, with the rest migrant workers.

Qatari authorities on Tuesday announced the closure of several square kilometers of the industrial area in Doha, the capital, which also contains labor camps and other housing units.

The country relies on about 2 million migrant workers for the bulk of its labor force, mainly from Asian countries.

“The majority of (coronavirus) cases in Qatar to date have been located in the Industrial Area,” the Government Communication Office (GCO) said earlier in a statement in response to a Reuters’ query.

“Every effort is being made to prevent the spread of the disease in Qatar and protect every member of the population. As a result, some areas of Qatar have been cordoned off to contain the virus,” it said.

The GCO did not comment on the total number of people under lockdown in the industrial zone, the total number of migrant workers who have tested positive or the number under quarantine.

Authorities on March 11 said 238 people under quarantine in a residential compound tested positive for the disease. Subsequent announcements have linked most reported cases to migrant workers without mentioning nationalities.

The GCO said authorities were working with employers to ensure payment of salaries and distribution of food, water, masks and hand sanitizer to people in lockdown sites, and people under quarantine were being tested and monitored by medics.

Like other Gulf states, Qatar has taken drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus, including banning non-Qataris from entering and shutting public venues.

“This is a crucial stage in breaking the chain of the virus spread,” al-Khater said, urging people to stay at home.

Qatar, locked in a dispute with larger neighbor Saudi Arabia and its allies that has seen them impose a boycott on Doha since mid-2017, has been gearing up to host the 2022 World Cup by building venues and scaling up its infrastructure.

Since being named host of the event, Qatar has been criticized by rights groups for poor labor conditions. It responded by enacting broad reforms to guard worker rights.

The event’s organizing body, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, did not immediately respond to a Reuters’ query on whether there were any infections among World Cup workers, but said it was working with the government and contractors to ensure the health and safety of all involved.

It said World Cup preparations remain on track.

Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Lisa Barrington and Marwa Rashad; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Leslie Adler

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