COVID-19 has not distinguished between nationals and expats, politicians and those at the lower rungs of the ladder or between rich and poor. But workers in camps neither have the luxury of social distancing nor the opportunity to work from home.
“There is definitely a sense of fear among workers,” says Mahesh Nepal, who has been working in Qatar for five years. “There is increased surveillance in the labour camps, and all workers have to undergo tests before and after work each day. Mobility has been restricted and authorities including emergency response teams are on call at all times.”
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Migrant workers have benefited from the strong health infrastructure and containment efforts in Korea, Malaysia and the Gulf that together have about 1.5 million Nepalis. The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic goes beyond health to Nepal’s economy.
As the top destination for Nepali workers in 2018/19, Qatar is important for Nepal’s remittance-based economy. Doha is also an important aerial gateway for tourist traffic and the Nepali diaspora, and any further flight curtailments will have consequences for Nepal beyond migration.
The Saudi and UAE blockade of Qatar for the past two years has actually helped the country become more self-reliant and bolstered its capacity to deal with the epidemic. In addition, Qatar has announced a $23 billion stimulus package to help the private sector weather the crisis.
Says Mahesh Nepal: “The impact of the pandemic on the Qatar economy could have been worse due to external disruptions on supply chains or imports.”