‘Constant Fear’: Stranded in Wuhan, Nepalese Students Speak Out
Amid the current outbreak of novel coronavirus in China and elsewhere, people from other countries stranded in various cities of China, have been sending out pleas for help, as they look for ways to return home.
“As everything here is locked down and the virus issue is getting more serious with increasing number of new cases and death, Nepalese students are forced to live with constant fear of contracting virus (sic),” Pamir Gautam, a Nepalese student stuck in Wuhan city in Hubei province in China told The Quint.
Gautam is among the nearly 200 Nepalese students who are stuck in various cities of China, waiting for the Nepalese government to airlift them to safety. The Nepalese government had said that they would be deploying planes to evacuate Nepalese from Wuhan province, but nearly 200 Nepalese in China are still waiting for this to happen.
Also Read : Coronavirus: Death Toll in China Climbs to 811
‘Can’t Go Out to Buy Groceries’
What does it feel like to live in a city which has been quarantined? In a conversation over Whatsapp with The Quint, Gautam narrated how the students in Wuhan are forced to stay inside their homes, and are unable to venture out even for basic necessities.
He said, “There are few stores open, but because of the crowd, people fear to go out to buy daily necessities. If we go outside, again we will have to start counting our self-quarantine day starting from zero. Few apps are available to buy these things online at a particular time, however, because of time limit (30 seconds to few minutes) it is very difficult to take benefit of this app.”
Gautam also explained how the fear of contracting the coronavirus is causing “psychological stresses” to the students in Wuhan.
“Every day people are living with a fear of contracting the virus. It is not that only international students are suffering, we understand even Chinese are undergoing the same pain. But the problem with us is that we do not have our family members to console us. Many Nepalese students have been complaining about psychological stresses.”Pamir Gautam, a Nepalese Student in Wuhan
‘Primary Responsibility of State to Take Care of Its Nationals’
Speaking on the response given by the Nepal Embassy to The Quint, Gautam said that “in the initial stages, the Embassy didn’t take it (students’ concerns) seriously.”
“Only after pressure from students, the embassy was forced to create a WeChat group for students living in Hubei. The embassy had no information about students in Wuhan. Maybe the Embassy source or other source reported to the Government of Nepal that only few people are demanding for evacuation. This might have encouraged the government to direct the Embassy to ask people to fill up evacuation forms thinking that if only a few people fill up the form they could refute the demand saying it was unnecessary. One hundred eighty-five students demanding for evacuation might be a setback for the government.”Pamir Gautam, a Nepalese Student in Wuhan to The Quint
He further emphasised that despite the situation prevailing, “it is the primary responsibility of any state to take care of its nationals.”
Airlifting Delays by Nepal
Gautam said that despite repeated requests from 180 Nepalese students to their government, airlifting is being delayed.
According to Spotlight Nepal, more than 175 Nepalese students had filled up evacuation forms issued by the Embassy of Nepal in Beijing. They had been told that they would be brought home within one or two days, after the completion of procedural formalities. The embassy had asked Nepalese, who wanted to return home, to fill up the relevant forms by 2 February.
Lamsal told International Business Times that a chartered Nepal Airlines Corporation aircraft would be used to airlift the Nepalese who wanted to return home.
According to IB Times, Lamsal said that as more and more countries evacuate their citizens out of China, “the panic level among Nepalis living in Wuhan has heightened. But it is not easy to evacuate Nepalis immediately as we will first have to meet the Chinese safety requirements.”
The report further said that the Kathmandu government had held discussions with Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), the national flag carrier, on bringing the Nepalese back from China, but quoted the NAC spokesperson Archana Khadka as saying that nothing had been finalised yet because they were still awaiting approval from the Chinese aviation authority to operate the flight.
However, there are other obstacles as well. Before being evacuated, Nepalese will have to undergo a medical evaluation in China to check for coronavirus. Those testing positive will be barred from travelling to Nepal and will be undergoing treatment in China, the report said.
‘All We Want is To Come Back’
But as the wait increases, those stuck in China are getting impatient and worried.
“They [Nepali students in Wuhan] are so angry that they have accused the Nepal government of doing nothing,” Gaurab Pokharel, a medical student in Wuhan was quoted as saying by IB Times.
“We want to return to Nepal at the earliest as anything could happen and any of us could be affected,” Pokharel told Republica, a Nepal-based newspaper, adding, “If bringing us back can create fear and the possibility of the virus spreading, we are willing to undergo self-quarantine for 14 days in Nepal. All we want is to come back.”
Pokharel and Gautam are not alone in their concerns.
“The streets of the city are empty and there is a shortage of daily requirements like food and water. We remain inside our rooms, watch TV and sleep. Imagine your entire daily routine being restricted in this way. It’s so hard,” some students told Republica.
The death toll in China's coronavirus outbreak rose to 811 on Sunday, 9 February, surpassing the number of fatalities in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, while over 37,000 people have been confirmed as being infected with the deadly virus that has spread to more than 25 countries.
Eighty-nine deaths were reported on Saturday – the highest single-day death toll – and there were 2,656 new confirmed cases of the deadly infection, China's National Health Commission said in its daily report on Sunday.
(With inputs from Republica, Spotlight Nepal and International Business Times.)