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Chinese, Pakistani staff of CPEC power plant strive for energy supply of Pakistan amid COVID-19

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During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the electricity generated by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) energy projects accounted for about one-third of Pakistan's electricity supply, according to the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan.

XinhuaUpdated: February 1, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the electricity generated by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) energy projects accounted for about one-third of Pakistan's electricity supply, according to the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan.

The aerial photo taken on Aug. 6, 2019 shows the Sahiwal Coal Power plant in Sahiwal, Punjab Province, Pakistan. (Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal)

Liu Binxiang, a 36-year-old Chinese engineer working in Pakistan's Sahiwal coal-fired power plant, is one of the thousands of staff contributed to the achievement.

Liu joined the power plant in 2015 when the major energy project under the CPEC just started construction. He originally planned to return to China for vacation in last February. However, his plan was ruined by the sudden outbreak of COVID-19.

"Normally, the Chinese staff of our power plant can go back to China every three months while I had to spend a major part of last year working in the plant due to suspension of flight services and other adverse influences of COVID-19," Liu, deputy director of the Operation Department in the power plant, told Xinhua.

The outbreak of the pandemic disrupted the normal rotation of staff and the purchasing and transportation of production materials, causing the power plant problems such as lack of manpower and reserve parts. The power plant staff had to bear greater working and psychological pressure.

"For many of the 900 staff working in different capacities, they had to take on the workload of two people," Liu said. "But it is something we have to do, because our primary responsibility is to generate electricity to meet the energy requirement of Pakistan's economic and social activities."

Sharing this sense of responsibility, Pakistani employees of the Sahiwal power plant, located in the country's east Punjab province, also made their sacrifices for the common target.

"I went home in September of last year after working in the power plant for six months, and came back in October. Before the pandemic, I used to go home every weekend," said Ehtisham Tanvir, an engineer from Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab.

To prevent and control COVID-19, the Sahiwal power plant reacted rapidly and implemented closed-off management on March 1, 2020, days after the first cases were reported in Pakistan, which prevented the Pakistani staff from going home whenever they were off-duty like in the pre-COVID-19 days.

Before he returned to his post after vacation, Tanvir had both PCR and antibodies tests for three times and got quarantined for 14 days in the power plant. Thanks to its strict COVID-19 prevention measures and others including wearing masks and disinfection on a daily basis, the Sahiwal power plant has so far kept the record of zero infection.

"Considering the special circumstances amid COVID-19 and the critical nature of our job, the strict anti-epidemic measures enforced by our power plant is the only way to deal with this," the 27-year-old who joined the power plant shortly after graduation in 2015 told Xinhua.

As a Pakistani who had experienced blackout for over 12 hours every day, Tanvir has a deep understanding of the importance of electricity. "CPEC energy projects including Sahiwal have made load shedding a thing from the past in Pakistan. Our country needs electricity. Our power plant has been trying hard to ensure a continuous supply of electricity to the grid, people and industry of Pakistan."

Tanvir said that he really appreciated the spirit of many of his Chinese colleagues who had to stay in the power plant over one year. "They (Chinese staff) have made a lot of sacrifices, and it requires a lot of mental strength to work in such difficult situations in a foreign land. I believe we are doing this because we all consider this our job, and our duty," he said.

After finally getting the chance to return to China for vacation in August of last year, Liu hurried to come back to Sahiwal, trying to ease the burden of his colleagues. Later this month, he will celebrate his fifth Spring Festival, the most important time of family reunion in a year for Chinese, in Pakistan.

"I will surely miss my families especially my two kids during the Spring Festival, but they all support what I am doing. I also feel very proud of myself for being a part of CPEC and bringing tangible positive changes for our Pakistani brothers and sisters," Liu said.

With the joint efforts of both the Chinese and Pakistani employees, the Chinese-built power plant that has two 660-MW supercritical units, has generated some 6.5 billion kWh of electricity in 2020 alone, and produced over 29.1 billion kWh of electricity so far since it was put into commercial operation in 2017.

Besides the Sahiwal power plant, all the other CPEC projects have also strived to overcome challenges posed by the pandemic to make their construction and operation basically normal.

Chairman of Pak-China Business and Investment Promotion Council Amanullah Khan told Xinhua that after the pandemic gripped Pakistan, CPEC energy projects appeared as a major support for Pakistan's economic and social activities.

When the COVID-19 lockdown was eased in Pakistan, almost all sectors of business, trade and industries started working quickly, and the reason behind this is that CPEC energy projects have been actively and efficiently producing a big chunk of Pakistan's total energy supply, Khan said.

"Now, even though the pandemic is still there, CPEC energy projects are playing a vital role in helping Pakistan's industries to run at full," Khan added.