Coronavirus lockdown in Wuhan means foreign residents with no flight out must sit tight

15-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Nigerian student Peter has not left his flat in Wuhan for more than a week, because thousands of cases of coronavirus are reported in the central Chinese city every day.

The 25-year-old once wished his government would move him and about 50 fellow students and businesspeople away from the epicentre of the outbreak, but, as time passed, communication from the Nigerian embassy in Beijing stopped and his hopes of a way out seemed to have faded.

“We expect financial and emotional support even if we don’t get evacuated, but we haven’t received any support,” he said on Thursday.

Peter, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals from his government, said he had surgical masks from the Chinese university where he studied. But he was more worried about his countrymen and their families as pressure on their finances grows.

“Truthfully, I think the psychological strain is just increasing every day,” he said.

About three weeks have pass ed since the capital of central Hubei province was locked down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Eleven million residents have been prevented from leaving the city as have the 15,000 foreigners who must remain there unless their countries arrange to take them home.

Kazakhstan has scheduled two more planes this week after a first flight out on February 2, while Canada also has plans for another airlift this week. At the weekend, Singapore and Britain staged their second evacuations, while the United States carried out its third. For Brazil and the Philippines there was a first airlift.

Uzbekistan, New Zealand, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Thailand chartered planes last week.

Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, Russia, France, Germany and other European countries came for their citizens a week before that.

So far, the only known death of a foreigner among Wuhan’s 1,036 victims was a 60-year-old American woman who died last week.

Some from overseas have remained. India airlifted 647 of its citizens home last week, but 70 chose to stay, and 10 others were stopped from boarding when they failed a temperature test at the airport.

Satya is one of them. Last week, she posted a video on social media in which she said she had a high temperature but no symptoms of the virus. She and another Indian who did not make the flight were put under medical observation until further arrangements could be made.

However, not all countries are able, or willing, to repatriate their nationals.

Pakistan, a close ally of China, told its 800 students in Wuhan to stay calm as they would not be airlifted home. Although four Pakistani students there were diagnosed with the infection, ambassador to China Naghmana Hashmi said medical facilities in Pakistan could not treat the virus.

Mir Hassan, a Pakistani researcher at Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics, accused prime minister Imran Khan and his government of being “not human” because his father died at home on Friday while he was stranded in China.

“Evacuate me and other fellows. I lost my father,” he wrote on Twitter after Health minister Zafar Mirza said he spoke to Pakistani students in Hubei and assured them they would be taken care of by China. “We are your responsibility. Family needs me; my mother needs me. For God’s sake, don’t play with us.”

Family and sympathisers started to campaign for repatriation flights to Pakistan, while similar groups have been set up in Africa. A group of Senegalese families asked their government to fly their relatives home, but President Macky Sall said they could not match “big countries” in organising emergency evacuations.

The more than 250 Tanzanians in Wuhan have been told there are no plans to get them out. Five Ugandan students wrote to their parliament saying they were short of necessities, including food and surgical masks. They said price rises meant essentials were hard to afford. On Tuesday, the government said it was “weighing” an evacuation against sending supplies to its citizens in China.

Peter said he has not returned to Nigeria since he started his studies in China because travel is long and expensive, but he now misses home.

“My family is very worried, of course, but I try to assure them,” he said.


Category: China

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