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LONDON: Canadian employees at a college in Qatar have been threatened with job losses if they leave the country over the summer, despite scorching heat and sky-high COVID-19 infection rates.

Employees at the College of the North Atlantic (CNA), a Canadian college contracted by Qatar to run a campus in Doha, have said they fear job losses or reprisal from the Qatari government if they leave the country over the summer.

“Living in a country that has, for weeks, had the highest per-capita number of positive COVID-19 cases in the world is extremely stressful, and several CNA-Q (CNA Qatar) employees are anxious to leave for summer,” one employee said.

The college employs 650 staff, the majority of whom are Canadian. Foreign staff usually return home for the summer to avoid the heat, a factor that this year has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People just want to return to Canada for the summer to get away from this pressure cooker for a few weeks and be with family,” another staff member said.

A spokesperson for the college said: “CNA-Q employees who decide to leave Qatar and do not return to work at CNA-Q when required may have their employment agreement terminated.”

The employees who spoke with CBC News all said they were initially discouraged from leaving the country when the pandemic began, but were not threatened with any measures against them.

In addition to the obstacles employees face trying to go home for the summer, they have also been told that they will be forced to return to classrooms when teaching resumes in September. This decision has apparently bewildered many college staff. 

One staff member said: “CNA employees have been teaching online from mid-March and it’s working. Many employees can’t understand why they can’t continue to do this from the safety (of) their home country.”

With more than 85,000 COVID-19 infections among a population of just 2.8 million, Qatar has the highest per-capita infection rate in the world.

The country is in the process of reopening public spaces despite recording over 1,000 new infections per day.

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