Belt And Road Countries Affected By Covid-19

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Op/Ed By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

There has been a great deal of media speculation concerning China’s Belt & Road Initiative and the Covid-19 outbreak, with some commentators suggesting it is a ‘communist’ disease and others stating the Belt & Road “is being lashed” by the virus. These are rather strange comments, and quite how the Wall Street Journal manages to ascribe political allegiance to a disease is illustrative of just how journalistic standards have fallen in the United States.

In fact, although the Covid-19 has been spreading globally, the Belt & Road regions have been left relatively unscathed. In the map below, we can see the countries thus far affected.


The countries shown all have Covid-10 patients, and goes some way to illustrate the spread of the disease. However, most of these have experienced minimal infection rates, with the exception of Italy and Iran. Russia currently has just 20 cases, while infection rates currently remain low in South-East Asia and elsewhere.

The Italy cluster is unusual because while the country has long had a sizable population of illegally working Chinese nationals, employed mainly in the shoe making areas to the south, the Italian outbreak is concentrated in the North. Iran’s outbreak has been mainly due to unsanitary practices such as licking the walls and protective coverings of Islamic icons and related objects.

This doesn’t suggest that current Belt & Road Initiative projects won’t face delays, because many will. This is especially true of the export of Chinese labor to physically undertake numerous projects, and the mass export of Chinese labour isn’t on the cards right now. However most Chinese laborers that were already in situ have been tested and quarantined. In Sri Lanka for example, where several thousand Chinese workers are busy constructing new highways, all were ‘confined to barracks’ for 2 weeks. None displayed symptoms; all are now back at work. I know, because I live in Sri Lanka during the Winter months and have first hand experience.

The impact of the Covid-19 outbreak along the Belt & Road Initiative won’t stop the infrastructure development. Governments have already agreed plans, and contracts have already been signed. While delays will occur on projects that require mass Chinese labor from China to fulfill them, the Belt & Road is still steaming ahead. Perhaps a little slower than before, but it remains very much on track.


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Silk Road Briefing is written by Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm provides strategic analysis, legal, tax and operational advisory services across Eurasia and has done since 1992. We maintain 28 offices throughout the region and assist foreign governments and MNC’s develop regional strategies in addition to foreign investment advice for investors throughout Asia. Please contact us at or visit us at