At least 50 Malawians are stuck in Wuhan, ground zero of China’s coronavirus outbreak, which has killed 170 people and close to 7,000 people have been infected.
Unlike countries such as the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom that are evacuating their citizens, the Malawi government has not made such arrangement. This has caused panic among the Malawians there as they are running out of cash and supplies.
When the coronavirus began to get serious, Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in central China, announced a lockdown, with roads getting closed, flights grounded, trains cancelled and public places cordoned in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.
The lockdown has left 11 million Wuhan residents including 51 Malawians, stranded. When the whole Hubei was locked down, there were an additional seven Malawians in Yichang City and one in Xianning City. Hubei has a population of 58.5 million.
Asked on a Chinese social networking App We-Chat what their most urgent need was, the students said: “ We are out of food.”
The students were commenting on questions by the reporter on the ‘Malawians in China’ group on which their names were not requested but their authenticity was verified.
Said another student: “We have been on lockdown for eight days now. Shops are closed, as you might have heard. They are only opening specific ones at specific points and times, mostly two to three hours.
“Going there is a personal risk as no one knows who has been exposed to what and where. Prices of commodities have gone higher than the usual, and it is a hustle to actually buy what you need as the demand is high.”
With the viral infection killed hundreds of people and infected at least 6 000 others in China, the lockdowns might not end soon, and that is worrying the students.
“The [Malawian] Government should [consider] topping up students in China that our stipends won’t take us far. Our purchasing power has been compromised,” said another student.
Bachelor’s degree students on scholarship in China get 2500 Yuan (K265 000) stipend per month. While that may seem a lot in Malawi, in China it is just enough to cover ones basic needs like food, electricity, Internet, drinking water and, in some case, pay to shower
Malawi Ambassador Charles Namondwe, in a telephone interview dismissed the students’ call to be evacuated, saying those who want to leave Wuhan would have to do so on their own.
He said the Chinese authorities are in constant contact with him and are calling on everyone to “stay calm and confident” that the issues would be resolved.
However, Namondwe warned that the issue may take time to go away and declined to comment on the students request for an allowance top-up indicating that it was an issue his superiors in Malawi would be better placed to tackle.
Namondwe said there are 56 Malawian students and one army officer in Hubei, which differs slightly with the numbers the students have of themselves.
State-run CGTN reported that World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus said evacuation of nationals from Wuhan are not recommended.
He instead called for calm, saying he was confident in China’s response to the outbreak.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :