Nations around the world are evacuating their students and other citizens from coronavirus-stricken China, while other countries are choosing to leave their citizens in Wuhan, the university city where the virus reportedly started.
Around 500 Bangladeshi students are among the stranded in Wuhan. They have called for help on social media, while the Chinese and Bangladesh governments negotiate a strategy.
“Through the social [media] site WeChat, students got informed of the mystery infectious virus that was spreading fast,” Mazharul Islam, a freshman in the School of Electrical Engineering at Wuhan University, told VOA. “However, we were told that there is nothing to get worried about and the virus is under control. Later through WeChat we were advised to use masks when stepping out of the dormitory.”
Islam said there were 30 Bangladeshi students on his campus. Through Chinese social media WeChat, he said, he and others learned there were 500 Bangladeshi students in Wuhan. He said the Bangladesh Embassy in Beijing “would notify us if there were any emergency evacuation taking place.” He said they have been provided with masks and preventive medicines from the university.
Masudur Rahman, the deputy chief of mission at the Bangladesh Embassy in Beijing, said of the 3,000 Bangladeshis in China, most are students and teachers.
“We, from the Bangladesh Embassy in Beijing, are in contact with the Chinese authorities and are trying to find a possible solution in the present situation,” Rahman said. Evacuation would “have to take place through a bilateral arrangement.”
Meanwhile, other countries are arranging flights out of China for their citizens. France – where three cases of the coronavirus have been reported -- said it will operate several direct flights under the supervision of medical experts out of China midweek for French citizens who want to leave, AFP reported. The number could "range from a few dozen to a few hundred" of its 800 citizens in China, said Health Minister Agnes Buzyn.
Evacuees will "stay in a holding area for 14 days," the duration it takes for the virus to incubate, when they land in France, AFP reported.
Morocco ordered the repatriation of 100 Moroccan nationals – mostly students – from the Wuhan area on Monday, according to Reuters. Other countries arranging to have their citizens and students flow out include Japan, Spain, Britain and Netherlands. Canada, which has about 167 nationals in the Wuhan area, has not planned evacuations but has not ruled them out, Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Monday. Each consular request would be evaluated on a "case by case basis," he told Reuters.
The epidemic, which originated in Wuhan city, has claimed 81 lives in China and infected more than 2,800 people globally, most of them in China.
📌 CORONAVIRUS UPDATE— The Voice of America (@VOANews) January 27, 2020
🇨🇳 China 81
🇨🇳 China 2700
🇺🇸 US 5
🇫🇷 France 3
🇯🇵 Japan 4
🇸🇬 Singapore 4
🇰🇷 South Korea 4
🇹🇼 Taiwan 5
🇹🇭 Thailand 8
🇻🇳 Vietnam 2
🇰🇭 Cambodia 1
(Source: VOA/ AFP)
The Chinese government has locked down Wuhan and neighboring cities to keep the virus from spreading. Tens of millions of people, including foreigners and students, are among them. Many students left the Wuhan area for Lunar New Year's holiday and winter break, but others stayed behind.
More than 60 Afghan students are among foreigners stranded in Wuhan. The Afghan government has asked China to keep the students in Wuhan and not send them back to Afghanistan, much to the disappointment of their families in Afghanistan.
“Universities are locked-down, and students are stranded at their rooms and are not allowed to leave their campuses," said Ahmad Jawed Beheshti, an Afghan student at Sichuan University in China. "Just yesterday, they closed off our university.”
Javed Ahmad Qaem, Afghan ambassador to China, told VOA the students have not been forgotten.
"They are nervous, but Chinese authorities are acting responsibly," he said. "They have a focal point for each embassy. If and when relocation is allowed inside China or outside China, we will also be at the forefront. So far relocation is not allowed. They are isolated and we are monitoring the situation closely."
The president of the Indonesian Student Association (PPI) of Chinape, Nur Musyafak, in Wuhan said Indonesian citizens -- including students -- want to get out of the city. Foreign Ministry data show there are 428 Indonesian citizens studying in Wuhan. Most of those students returned to Indonesia for winter break.
But those remaining in China need a recommendation letter from the Indonesian Republic Embassy if they want to leave.
"We're gathering all the passport numbers of these 98" Indonesians who remain in Wuhan. "Once we have the data, we will request a letter from the Indonesian Embassy," Nur told VOA.
The dorm is 20 kilometers from the Huanan Seafood Market, where the coronavirus is suspected of emanating. Campuses in Wuhan have distributed masks, liquid soap, and free thermometers to students, Nur said. The universities have instructed students not to leave their room too often.
Authorities in Myanmar said they had cancelled a planned evacuation of 60 students from Mandalay who were studying in Wuhan. Kyaw Yin Myint, a spokesman for the Mandalay municipal government, told Reuters that a "final decision" had been made to send them back after 14 days, once the virus' incubation period had passed.
In Russia, direct flights from Wuhan to Moscow were suspended last week. At least 140 Russians, 75 of them students, are known to be in Wuhan and Hubei, the Russian embassy in China said on Monday, Reuters reported from the TASS news agency.
The United States said it would evacuate personnel and citizens in China, several news outlets reported. The U.S. State Department said it will evacuate personnel from its Wuhan consulate to the United States and offer a limited number of seats to private U.S. citizens on a flight. Some private citizens will be able to board the "single flight" leaving Wuhan on Jan. 28 for San Francisco, it said.
Sayed Hasib Mawdoodi of VOA's Afghan Service in Kabul, Sanjana Feroz and KabirUddin Sarkar of the Bangla Service in Washington, and Rio Tuasikal of the Indonesian Service in Bandung, Indonesia, contributed to this report.