Students trapped in Chinese city as virus persists

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 00:00 | By
Travellers are screened for Coronavirus at an Indian airport. Photo/COURTESY

Alvin Mwangi, Peter Leshan, Noel Wandera and Agencies

Close to 100 Kenyan students are trapped in the Chinese city of Wuhan as the deadly Coronavirus outbreak ravages the Asian economic giant.

Yesterday, the government confirmed the desperate situation in the central Chinese city situated in Hubei province, which is the epicentre of the disease outbreak that has so far killed 81 people and infected more than 3,000.

The outbreak of the acute viral respiratory disease has come at a time when millions of Chinese are travelling from the cities to their rural homes to mark the annual Lunar New Year holiday.

In a statement, the Foreign Affairs ministry cautioned Kenyan students in the city against travelling out and urged those in distress to contact the embassy in Beijing.

“The embassy is aware that there are 85 Kenyans in Wuhan who are registered with the embassy and is closely monitoring the situation. We encourage unregistered Kenyans to register as a matter of importance,” said the statement.

The government made the revelation even as it emerged that Kenya’s tourism sector had started feeling the pinch of the outbreak resulting in massive cancellation of bookings to local hotels by Chinese tourists for the past three weeks.

The ministry was reacting to concerns by Kenyans in China that the country had done nothing to ensure their safety.

Other countries such as the US, Japan and France have made efforts to evacuate their citizens from the affected region.

 “The embassy of China in Nairobi is constantly communicating with its capital and the Kenyan students in Wuhan under the Chinese government scholarship programme on the status to improve protection,” read the statement.

Foreign students marooned in the virus-hit region who spoke to the media painted a picture of agony, desperation, panic and appealed for help to travel back to their home countries.

Curb movement

“We are scared because the numbers keep increasing. At the dormitory if you meet somebody they go to the other side of the corridor. Nobody wants to meet anybody,” a student from Ghana told the BBC.

  “Ladies are crying. They want to go home. They are panicking. They are losing hope. We don’t want to stay here,” said the desperate student.

The situation in the city has been worsened by the lockdown ordered by Chinese authorities which means people are not free to travel out. The order is meant to check spread of the disease.

The students, mostly on Chinese government scholarships, declined to speak to the media on record for fear of reprisals.

The government cautioned Kenyans against non-essential travel to Wuhan until the virus situation is contained.

“Those on essential travel must comply with additional screening measures that have been put in place by authorities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will keep updating on the situation of Kenyans living in the affected region,” said the ministry.

Authorities in Hubei province have announced the postponement of the opening of universities and colleges and suspended exams calendar in an effort to curb movement and spread of the virus. 

“The affected universities will notify students of new opening dates through a general circular in the press. Students should also keep checking with their respective institutions and the embassy on return date,” said the statement.

“Those who may exhibit symptoms of the virus have been advised to report to the nearest hospital without delay.” 

Tour operators who spoke to People Daily, said arrivals of Chinese tourists to Kenya had dropped following the disease outbreak. They said the outbreak had also affected arrivals from other parts of Asia such as India and Pakistan.

“Tourist arrivals from China have reduced. If the virus is not contained, many hotels in the Coast, Maasai Mara and in other destinations will suffer serious revenue losses,” said Patrick Wanjohi, managing director of Into Africa Eco Travel Ltd.

He said since the virus was first reported and started to claim lives in China, there have been massive cancellations of hotel bookings and travel by Chinese tourists to Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania.

His company, he said, last week lost more than 530 clients from China, India and Pakistan who were destined for various game reserves, parks and other tourist attractions in the country.

Wanjohi asked the government to step up surveillance at all entry points, warning that if it spreads to Africa, it would inflict long-term damage to the hotel industry.

“Chinese companies have since 2011 invested billions of shillings in the hospitality industry in the country.

In the famous Maasai Mara, Narok county, about 11 lodges and tented camps are associated with the Asian country, a survey carried out by the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) office in Narok two years ago showed.

Apart from tourism, China is a leading destination for Kenyan traders, from where they import household items, building materials and clothes. 

In Nairobi, the government had directed thorough screening of travellers from China entering the country at key airports.

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