|A medical staff member takes the temperature of a man at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in China on Jan. 25. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images|
There are 20 Gambians living in Wuhan, the capital of Central China’s Hubei Province, among them, undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students.
While no Gambian citizen is reported to have been infected with the virus yet, there has been growing fears of risk of infection among the small student population in Wuhan.
“Our situation is that we have been completely isolated, everyone is in their rooms alone and one can even die there without anyone knowing,” a graduate student who asked not to be named, said by phone.
“I and other students are at risk of contracting the virus because if your food runs out you have to go out to buy food, and it means you have to interact with other people,” he said.
“I am in an apartment [alone] outside the university where most foreign students are staying. I want all Gambians to remember us in their prayers – banks are closed and I don’t even know if I will get my next stipend.”
“If I contract the virus, how am I going to get help? I do not speak Chinese, how can I contact an ambulance?” said the student who is on a Chinese government scholarship. “I have only been checked once. I was out of my apartment and I saw health personnel disinfecting the area and they checked my temperature – that was a week ago.”
The student said it is important for the Gambian government to consider relocating its citizens to a “safer zone” like Beijing because the risk of infection in Wuhan is high.
A Spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Banjul, Saikou Ceesay, said there are no plans to evacuate the students out of the epicenter of the coronavirus for now. “The situation is we don’t have plans to evacuate them but we are working with our Chinese counterparts to provide them with all the necessary provisions they will need in a timely manner,” he said.
The city has been in lock-down since the outbreak, with trains and other public transportation systems restricted in and out of Wuhan, except for flights of mainly evacuees of foreign nationals.
“Our stipend should be sent to the bank by the end of the month, I am not sure what will happen, whether it will be sent or not, but we have ATM cards,” Ebrima Barry, an undergraduate student of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the Central China Normal University in Wuhan, said.
“We are not in jail,” Barry said of the city’s lock-down from his university dorm in Wuhan. “But if I want to leave Wuhan there are no public transport services – but within Wuhan my movements are not restricted, but the advice is that we should stay indoors.”
His university has provided him with one thermometer for him to be checking his temperature regularly. They have also given him 20 masks and a bottle of antiseptic hand wash. However, no health personnel have been to his dorm or campus to examine his health.
“There is a hospital at my university, it is situated about one kilometer from my dorm, and the advice is that if anyone is not feeling well you can go to the hospital, and if you can’t get to the hospital you can call 120 for emergency services to come get you,” he said by phone.
Barry heard from the Gambian embassy in Beijing three times since the coronavirus outbreak, and he said this is reassuring.
“The Gambian embassy is in touch with me, they called me and said I have to let them know if anything happens,” he said. “It’s quite comforting; it shows that they care about my presence here.”
He also said he was aware of other countries evacuating their citizens out of Wuhan, but he wouldn’t want to call for an evacuation to The Gambia.
“If we are evacuated to Gambia and eventually someone take along the virus, do The Gambia have the doctors and health facilities to tackle the disease? And if China eventually found a vaccine would the government bring us back to China in time for us to get vaccinated and to continue our studies?” he said. “Let the authorities analyse the situation and do what is best for us.”
But without plans to evacuate him and other Gambians in Wuhan, the foreign affairs ministry said it is working to get provisions to various Gambian students’ residences.
“Support will be given to them where they are. We have already sorted that out with our Chinese counterparts,” spokespesman, Saikou Ceesay, said. “We are hopeful that the situation will be contained in the soonest possible time.”
This new strain of an infectious respiratory disease identified by Chinese scientists as novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) had not been previously identified in humans, but human-to-human transmission has been confirmed, Gambia’s ministry of health said in a statement.
As of Wednesday, at least 490 people have died from the respiratory illness, and 24,324 are known to have been infected with the virus. Hong Kong recorded the second confirmed death from the coronavirus outside China after the Philippines.
In mid-December last year, some workers at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan were reportedly infected with “pneumonia” with no clear causes. But Chinese scientists eventually linked the pneumonia to a new strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCoV.
A version of this story first appeared on Mansa Banko Online.
Written by Modou S. Joof
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