KAMPALA, UGANDA - At least 69 Ugandan students are effectively trapped in Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic. In Uganda, parents of the students are pleading with authorities to bring them home, but Ugandan officials say they have no plans to do so.
Three of Margaret Ntale’s four children are studying in Wuhan, China, and have been quarantined there since the coronavirus outbreak began in December.
“One of my daughters, the young one, Vivian, fell ill, and it scared me so much. And it was a sore throat to the extent that she could not even talk. I was so scared until the point when they told me she didn’t have the virus,” said Ntale.
Ntale calls her children every day to ask if they are safe and healthy — free of the virus known as COVID-19.
“Do they spray every day? Spraying the virus. Am not sure, I think so, but am not sure, because I never look outside. But I hear those trucks making noise, so, I think they do spray.”
But she wishes they were back home in Uganda.
“We pleaded with our government to help us evacuate our children, and up to now, they refused. And they gave us the reason that they are safer there,” said Ntale.
Health Minister Dr. Ruth Aceng confirmed the students will stay in Wuhan for the time being.
"I am not aware of the Chinese government requesting us to evacuate," said Aceng. "To the contrary, I have a letter from the ambassador reassuring us of how well they are taking care of our Ugandan students."
Aceng also discouraged people from countries where the coronavirus is spreading from coming to Uganda, warning they face a two-week, self-imposed quarantine.
“People residing in the following seven countries — Italy, Iran, South Korea, France, China, Germany and Spain — should consider postponing nonessential travel to Uganda,” said Aceng.
Since the outbreak, Ugandan authorities have identified about 1,300 passengers arriving from affected countries as high risk.
These travelers, such as traders from Kampala’s business hub, Kikuubo, pose a threat to public health, says aviation public health specialist, Dr. James Eyul.
“Ugandans coming from China, you know, our Kikuubo traders for example, you know they don’t want to remain at home. They are a little bit stubborn because they think they are at home. And if we have one who is still in the incubation period, that will be the threat,” said Eyul.
The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, doctors say, is for everyone in affected countries to stay put, limit physical contact, and wait for the virus to stop spreading.
But for mothers like Ntale, the waiting is the hardest part.