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began her day as
usual. She awoke in
the room she shared
with nine other
employees of
Transguard Group,

the United Arab Emirates–based company that had placed
her in customer service at the Dubai International Airport
nearly three years prior. The room was one of many,
packed and utilitarian, that made up the Al Quoz 10 labor
camp, one of many such camps in the industrial zone
south of the city center. Before long, Gurung’s routine was
brought to a sudden halt by her supervisor, who informed
her that her employment—and salary—would be
suspended indefinitely because of the rapidly deepening
Covid-19 crisis. Overnight, Gurung found herself stranded
without income, nearly 2,000 miles from her husband and
7-year-old daughter, as the world descended into a
pandemic.
“We were all very scared,” she recalled to me in a phone
call, describing the swift lockdown that followed, adding
that the company’s Covid-19 protection measures were
minimal. “They put hand sanitizer out and gave each
person just one mask that we had to keep washing and
reusing for months. But they weren’t testing us.” Some of
the workers were still required to report for duty, leaving
Gurung terrified that they’d “bring the virus back with
them” and spread it around the camp. She recalls that
these workers were given temperature checks upon return
—a measure that detects only those cases in which a fever
is present, but can miss many others. She started to hear
rumors of infections breaking out in the camp, and her
apprehension grew. “We were sure we’d get sick.”

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