NAIROBI - In an effort to contain the coronavirus, Wuhan, the Chinese city of about 11 million people, has locked down thousands of foreigners, including African students, most on scholarships. They are now trapped in the city where the virus was first detected and continues to spread.
A Kenyan student arrived in Wuhan city last September.
He applied for a competitive scholarship to study administrative management and was awarded it after several attempts.
The new coronavirus emerged just when he was settling in at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. The WhatsApp group for Kenyan students in China stopped talking about academics, and started checking on each other and sharing information about the disease.
He says the death toll kept rising and before he knew it, the city was under lockdown. He says he and his colleagues are afraid to circulate in the city.
"Some of them are very scared here in their rooms, like the whole day they remain indoors," he said. "Those are the directions we have been given by the authorities here, to avoid much interaction. If you pay much attention on that [the death toll], I don’t know what will happen to you because there is so much information from different people. The more you listen to them, the more you pay attention, the more scared you become."
The student and his colleagues spoke to VOA via a WhatsApp call from a room they said they shared.
Some countries have started evacuating their many thousands of citizens stranded in Wuhan. He and other Kenyans are still not sure of their fate but are hopeful.
"If a situation comes that we can be evacuated from Wuhan to a safer place, everybody will accept that. Maybe somewhere like the embassy, somewhere like Beijing is ok. It's not that far from Wuhan to Beijing, but I don’t know what plans our ambassador has for us," he said.
John (not his real name), a final year student of engineering at Huazhong University, was meant to come home in the next couple of months.
He questions Kenya’s capacity to deal with the virus if it made its way to the country and said he preferred they stay in China.
"Of course everyone would love to go back home, but again you look at where your home is, and you are also not sure of your status regarding the disease," he said. "To me, I think its better just to stay here and ensure that I am safe wherever I am because you might go back home and take it to everyone and as you know, at home, facilities are not that good to handle the situation.”
Kenya's Ministry of Foreign Affairs says 85 Kenyans are stuck in Wuhan.
In a press statement, the ministry said the Kenyan Embassy in Beijing is in touch with the Kenyan citizens who have been affected by the lockdown in Wuhan.
The Foreign Ministry warned Kenyans not to travel to China unless it was absolutely necessary.
As some airlines suspended flights to China, Kenya Airways, the national carrier, said it will not suspend its flights to China. The announcement came just after Kenyan Ambassador to China Sarah Serem called on the airline to stop flights to the country until the virus is contained.
At a briefing for journalists this week, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong said that if the virus makes its way to African countries, it would be hard to contain.
"The surveillance system is as good as the health system in member states, and we all know that we are at very different levels of strength in the member states. Some countries have very strong surveillance systems, some have weak surveillance systems and some, we are working with them to strengthen their systems there," he said.
Kenya reported Tuesday the first suspected case of coronavirus infection in January. The Ministry of Health said Thursday it sent samples to South Africa for further tests.
Sudan, Ethiopia and Ivory Coast are the other African countries that reported suspected cases.