A workers' camp in Dubai
A workers' camp in Dubai|Photo credit: Rejimon Kuttappan
Governance

Indian Migrant Workers In Gulf Afraid Of Coronavirus Spread

Mask prices go up and become unaffordable for blue-collar workers, say activists

Rejimon Kuttappan

Rejimon Kuttappan

So far, none of the Arab Gulf countries have reported officially that Indian migrant workers have tested positive for Coronavirus or are being quarantined.

However, as the number of infected cases is going up in the six Arab Gulf countries, Indian blue-collar workers who toil under exploitative working conditions are worried.

The six Arab Gulf countries are home to 90 lakh Indians, mainly blue-collar workers.

“When there was a scare of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and H1N1, we were not given protection. We were forced to work without masks and hand sanitisers. Forget about Coronavirus scare, even if we fall sick due to any serious illness, we will not get leave. When that is the situation, we are not hopeful that we may get masks and on-time treatment if we have Coronavirus infection,” Suresh Kumar, a Keralite migrant worker in Oman, told The Lede.

Gulf Cases Up

According to World Health Organization Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (WHO EMRO), the updated number of Coronavirus infected cases in Bahrain is 49, Kuwait 56, Oman 12, Qatar 8, UAE 8 and Saudi Arabia 1.

From postponing large-scale events to closing schools, the UAE has taken several steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the Emirates.

On Wednesday, the UAE’s Ministry of Education wrote on Twitter that all schools and universities will be shut for four weeks starting Sunday, March 08. The tweet added that facilities will be deep cleaned during the closure.

On February 26 itself, Kuwait had announced that it would close schools for two weeks at the beginning of March, out of fear of the Coronavirus.

Additionally, to control the rapid spread of the disease, Kuwait’s civil aviation authority tweeted on Tuesday that passengers from 10 nations – including India, Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh - must produce certificates issued by the Kuwaiti embassy in their country saying they are coronavirus free.

In a statement on Twitter, the aviation authority warned that passengers who do not provide the certificates will not be allowed into Kuwait. The procedure will be put in place from March 08.

Kuwait has also banned visits to prisons for two weeks. All employees in Kuwait prisons have also been ordered to wear protective face masks.

While Oman has put more than 2300 people under quarantine, Saudi Arabia has banned citizens and residents from performing pilgrimage in Mecca over fears of coronavirus.

The official Saudi Press Agency announced that travellers coming from any Gulf state must spend 14 continuous days there and show no signs of the coronavirus before they are allowed to enter the kingdom.

Bahrain had also declared that all foreign nationals who have traveled to Italy, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea 14 days before their arrival will be denied entry into the country.

Camps At High Risk

On Tuesday, WHO EMRO Regional Director Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari said that while the numbers inside China have been rapidly declining, the sudden increase in cases in countries outside China, including in the region (which includes six Arab Gulf countries), is deeply alarming.

“We remain concerned about the surge of cases and deaths in the region and the increase in the number of travel-related confirmed cases. We have also seen cases of local transmission in our region, and the outbreak may likely continue to progress from case importation to local transmission,” the director said adding that the window of opportunity is closing, and we need to move fast.

A workers' camp in Sonapur, UAE
A workers' camp in Sonapur, UAE
Photo credit: Rejimon Kuttappan

The director also said WHO EMRO is working with all countries to conduct rapid risk assessments to identify key gaps and minimise the risk of importation into countries, particularly in countries with weaker health systems.

Meanwhile, an Indian medic in one of the Arab Gulf countries told The Lede that the Gulf countries which were formed at the end of the 1960s, lack experience in handling such virus spread and that there was a shortage of supplies in government-run medical institutions.

“If there is an outbreak, it would be a disaster,” the medic who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

An unauthorised market run by migrants in Sonapur, UAE
An unauthorised market run by migrants in Sonapur, UAE
Photo credit: Rejimon Kuttappan

The WHO Regional Director had said this outbreak has revealed weaknesses in health systems.

The Indian medic said that migrant workers are always an underprivileged lot and are prone to get infected soon.

“The majority of them live in unhygienic camps. And they will not be lucky enough to have masks and hand sanitisers. It is a worrisome situation,” the medic added.

Masks are required only for those who are infected with Coronavirus and so that they do not spread the disease to others. Those not affected do not need masks, as per advisories from governments across the world.

Masks Unaffordable

In the Arab Gulf countries, blue collar workers largely live in camps, with 10 people occupying a four-bed space room. The washrooms are common and usually unhygienic. Even the kitchens are dirty.

A medium-size camp would be home to at least 1000 workers in cramped rooms in any Arab Gulf country.

Workers return to their camp in Sonapur, UAE
Workers return to their camp in Sonapur, UAE
Photo credit: Rejimon Kuttappan

The WHO Regional Director had said that areas with high-risk factors, such as camps and cities hosting mass gatherings, are of key concern.

Meanwhile, an Indian social activist in Saudi said that mask prices are going up making it unaffordable to blue-collar workers.

“A week ago, the shortage of masks was reported. Now, the price is some 1000 times high,” the Indian social activist added.

An Indian social activist in Muscat said that Oman is also facing a shortage of masks. “There is a shortage of masks. And the price is around Rs 550 for a single mask. It is an unaffordable one for the poor blue-collar workers. It is a scary situation. What I feel is that the Indian embassy and Indian cultural organisations should step in and act swiftly in helping the workers. Prevention is always better than cure. We should not forget that,” the activist said.

3100 Deaths

According to the World Health Organisation, globally, at least 93,000 are infected and 3100 have died due to coronavirus.

Iran has cancelled Friday prayers across all provincial capitals as the coronavirus death toll touches 92 people.

And the death toll in Italy jumped to 79, up from an official total of 52. As of Wednesday morning, there are 2502 cases of the virus in Italy, according to Italian media reports that are updated ahead of the daily official count, published by Italy’s Civil Protection Agency every evening.

India has reported 28 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far, Indian Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said on Wednesday while giving an update on the status of the Coronavirus spread.

A 16-year-old student of an Indian school in Dubai and his parents have tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). The infection was contracted from the student's parent who had travelled overseas.

The parent developed symptoms five days after returning to Dubai. Both the student and family members have been quarantined in hospital and are stable and recovering well. All other family members have also been quarantined.

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