January 30, 2020 / 12:36 PM / a month ago

Get us out of here, plead foreign students at China virus epicenter

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Foreign students stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of a coronavurus outbreak, are launching social media campaigns, making phone calls and writing letters urging their governments to get them out as soon as possible.

Personnel in protective clothing approach an aircraft, chartered by the U.S. State Department to evacuate government employees and other Americans from the novel coronavirus threat in the Chinese city of Wuhan, after it arrived at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, U.S., January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Governments globally are grappling with the challenge of how to get their citizens out of China’s Hubei province, where 60 million residents now live under virtual lockdown.

Pakistan said that quarantine regulations prevented it from flying out the more than 500 Pakistani students and their families from Wuhan. Bangladesh and India said they were putting aircraft on standby.

Muhammad Rauf, 30, a Pakistani master’s student, told Reuters he and around 40 others were locked in their Wuhan dormitory for all but four hours a day.

“How long will the lockdown be?... What will we do? Just count down our days?” he said, adding they had been calling for an evacuation plan from their government for ten days.

Pakistani Health Minister Zafar Mirza said he understood students were anxious, there were no current plan to evacuate them - but the embassy was providing support.

“We are following Chinese regulations according to which the whole place is under quarantine. As they open it, we will decide accordingly,” he told Reuters by phone.

“PLEASE SAVE US”

Another Pakistani student in Wuhan, who declined to be identified because he feared reprisals from authorities, said the students had been in contact with their embassy but it had not responded in two days.

“They say that we cannot evacuate. Why can’t they evacuate us? Other countries have evacuated,” he said. “We are thankful to the Chinese government ... but we are not the responsibility of the Chinese government. We are the responsibility of our government.”

The United States airlifted nearly 200 Americans from Wuhan on Wednesday and South Korea on Thursday was preparing up to four evacuation flights.

In one video posted on social media, a group of Pakistani students who said they were in Wuhan chanted “please save us” while one man asked the government to “take some measures to get us out of here”.

China has become a major destination for South Asian university students in recent years, fueled in part by scholarships offered as China expands its influence in the region through President Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road infrastructure programme. Pakistan and China are very close allies.

More than 400 Bangladeshis, mostly students, are stranded in Wuhan.

“Wuhan has become a ghost town,” Rakibil Hafiz, a Bangladeshi engineering student at Hubei University of Technology, told Reuters via WhatsApp.

“There is nothing we can do. We are all stuck in the dormitory. We are very worried. I want to go home.” 

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; editing by Nick Macfie

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