True Story: African Students Trapped in Wuhan

Supermarkets that are usually crowded in Wuhan seem quiet, looking more foreign than before. Khamis Hassan Bakari walked in the aisles and saw that there were only two other buyers, feeling fear.

“Everyone is afraid. Afraid to see anyone,” the 39-year-old Tanzanian doctor told the Associated Press on Tuesday (1/28/2020).

At present, authorities around the world are preventing the spread of new corona viruses originating in Wuhan, the industrial city of China, which has a population of 11 million.

“You don’t even want the supermarket to touch the product you are buying.”

Bakari spoke with The Associated Press this week from his university housing complex in Wuhan. Access to transportation was cut off, roads were mostly empty, and the Lunar New Year Celebration was canceled.

With thousands of foreigners stranded in Wuhan, rich countries like the United States (US) and Japan are preparing to evacuate some of their citizens. Whereas the PhD student is a leader for hundreds of African colleagues who have little chance of having a similar opportunity.

“I feel like I’m stuck here,” said an Ethiopian student at Wuhan University of Science and Technology, who only gave his first name, Abel.

China’s drive to expand its influence on the African continent has made Africans the second largest population of foreign students in China. By 2018, African students numbered more than 80,000.

More than 4,000 are estimated to be in Wuhan alone.

Neither of them expected this. No one knows how long the isolation will last, or the prevention of the virus from spreading. The southern African nation of Botswana openly worries about water and food supplies for its students.

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So Bakari and a small committee of fellow doctors from an East African country regularly send social media updates about the corona virus outbreak to more than 400 Tanzanian students in Wuhan, as well as hundreds of citizens elsewhere in China.

“They don’t know what’s going on,” Bakari said.

“Together we are a family,” chanted the association, encouraging fellow Africans to follow preventative measures.

Concern is real. Even the most developed economy in Africa, South Africa, signaled it would not evacuate citizens. On Sunday, they told students in China to obey university instructions, warning that leaving without permission would have consequences.

Speaking by telephone, Bakari sounded very relaxed, even chuckling, when describing the isolated life in Wuhan.

“For me as a doctor, I know how to deal with stress,” said the nuclear medicine specialist.

“So, we have already begun how to undergo this ordeal.”

To keep people calm, the Tanzania committee recommends this: Exercise at least 20 minutes a day -and don’t spend too much time online.

“We don’t have a foreign student here in Wuhan who has a virus, we have never heard of any cases.”

A Ghanaian student said, campus authorities at Wuhan University of Science and Technology warned students not to share videos, photos or messages about the corona virus on WeChat, China’s popular messaging application. The application threatened to disconnect their WiFi connections if that happened.

The students just tried to learn about the situation, according to the student, adding that he wanted to leave China once the transportation network was restored.

“This is not the time for adventure,” Ghana’s Ambassador to China, Edward Boateng, warned.

“Don’t panic in the process.”

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The African diplomatic corps in Beijing is already exploring options to help students, reach out to US and other immigration agents.

Another Tanzanian, Dr. Hilal Kizwi, described the situation was full of panic, especially for new African students who could not speak Chinese.

Supplies of masks and other items are running out. Students are also asked to stop reporting to the office.

“I feel like I’m locked up in a cell,” Kizwi said shortly after the evening prayer.

“The only thing I can do is talk to my family: ‘I’m safe, I’m fine’.”

When he ventured outside after death, he even wore two masks to cover the face.

Not much can be done. Police continue to monitor the people who are out and about, Bakari said. Most supermarkets and pharmacies are closed. Shop items on his campus and the Kizwi campus, Tongji Medical College, are quickly sold out every day.

Bakari said the Tanzanian committee began collecting international representative telephone numbers for all universities in Wuhan so students could report food shortages.

Some students were given a thermometer and visited every day for temperature checks, Bakari said. On campus, they are given masks every day.

“Our university gave us supplies the day before yesterday,” he said, including two boxes of chocolate, cakes, sugar, cooking oil and bottled water.

“Today there is new information that if we want to get around the city, we must ask the local community. They give us a telephone number and we call them asking for transportation or supplies, if possible.”

He praised the Chinese authorities for their response: “We really appreciate what they do.”

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