Foreigners stranded in Wuhan by virus tell of fear, rations

Agence France-Presse . Hong Kong | Published: 23:34, Feb 13,2020


British nationals, who were repatriated from the Chinese city of Wuhan amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, travel in a coach as they leave Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, near Liverpool, on Thursday where they spent two weeks in quarantine. — AFP photo

Hunkered down at the epicentre of China’s virus epidemic and cut off from the world, the remaining foreigners in Wuhan are eking out a life in fear.

A coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 1,300 people and locked down the central Chinese city has left thousands of foreigners trapped as authorities impose an unprecedented quarantine.

‘We want to go back. We can’t survive anymore,’ said Gaurab Pokhrel, a Nepali doctoral student in Wuhan and one of 200 from his country yet to be evacuated.

He said food was in short supply and foreign students were competing with locals at the few stores that were open.

As of Monday, 27 foreigners in China had been infected with the virus — 22 of whom were in quarantine, officials said. Two of those have died — an American and a Japanese man.

While many have managed to escape on government-chartered planes, a dwindling group of the unlucky — or in some cases hardy — remain, either adapting to life or still seeking a way out.

Ruqia Shaikh, a Pakistani postdoctoral researcher stranded at Wuhan’s Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, said most students at the school were confined to their dormitories, watching TV.

She said the university was providing students with essential commodities, but at double the usual price.

Pakistani authorities say more than 500 students from the country are in Wuhan, but they have not announced any plans for an evacuation effort.

Unlike many countries, Islamabad has maintained flights to and from other cities in China. The health ministry justifies the move with assurances that all passengers are screened on landing in Pakistan.

Yemen too has no plans to evacuate its 115 nationals from the virus-hit city.

Fahd al-Tawili, a 31-year-old Yemeni under quarantine at the China University of Geosciences, said conditions were desperate.

Another Yemeni student, a 23-year-old studying at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, said students were living in ‘total terror for fear of being infected’.

France has left a group of between 30 and 50 citizens in Wuhan after evacuating hundreds on three earlier flights.

Its consul general in the city, Olivier Guyonvarch, said some want to leave, but Paris has no plans to send another plane.

‘We have no way to get you out,’ Guyonvarch says he told them.

Others are choosing to stay the course to minimise the risk of contracting the virus on the road.

Australian Edwin Reese said his wife was in the city and he was reluctant for her to leave.

‘If she stays where she is, they have a small garden with fruit and vegetables... they have everything they need,’ he said.  ‘Why would they go out and expose themselves? They would be crazy to do that.’

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