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African Students Appeal for Help Leaving China as Coronavirus Spreads


FILE PHOTO: A health worker checks the temperature of a traveller as part of the coronavirus screening procedure at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko/File Photo
African Students Appeal for Help Leaving China as Coronavirus Spreads
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Thousands of African students in China are watching as the coronavirus continues to spread. They are hoping that their governments will get them out of China soon.

Solomon Yohannes of Ethiopia is a third-year engineering student at Wuchang Technology University in Wuhan, the center of the outbreak. As he sat in a room at the school, he said almost all of Wuchang’s 15,000 students have left, but about 200 foreigners, most of them from Africa, remain.

Staying in rooms to prevent infection

“We are counting on the next two to three days for some solution,” Yohannes told VOA’s Afaan Oromo service. Until then, he and others will not leave their buildings. He explained that when going out, people have to wear masks and other protective devices to guard against infection.

FILE PHOTO: Health workers waits to screen travellers for signs of the coronavirus at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Health workers waits to screen travellers for signs of the coronavirus at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana January 30, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko/File Photo

Another student at Wuchang called on the Ethiopian government to take action. “We want the government to take us out of the country as every other government is doing,” he told VOA’s Amharic service. The student noted that the United States and India took many of their citizens out of China.

“We also want to tell the government to at least take us out of the city where the crisis is right now,” he added.

There are about 61,000 Africans studying in China. Many now face food shortages, isolation and questions about the future.

Last week, tests showed that a 21-year-old student from Cameroon had the coronavirus. He was studying in Jingzhou, a city about 230 kilometers from Wuhan. He is the first African student reported to be infected with the virus.

Hermes Koundou is from the Central African Republic. He is a third-year engineering student at Nankin University, about 530 kilometers east of Wuhan. He said students there are careful about being with other people.

“We buy food online, you see, and we cook inside our rooms because it is not easy to get to the common kitchen over there, as many people are there cooking,” Koundou told VOA’s French to Africa service. “And you never know, you could be in contact there, with a student already infected with the coronavirus. So, we stay in our rooms.”

Masks, wifi, and a hotline

Antony Waigwa of Kenya is at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan. He is working toward a Doctor of Philosophy, the highest degree offered at the university. Waigwa said that he and other students have been offered masks, free wi-fi and a telephone hotline for information about the virus.

“The situation is tense. We're just afraid of contracting the disease,” Waigwa told VOA’s Swahili service. He said the students are trying to stay safe by not leaving the school’s grounds.

The Ethiopian Ambassador to China, Teshome Toga Chanaka, said his country’s embassy is closely watching the situation. He added there are about 100 Ethiopian students in Wuhan city and about 300 in Hubei province. He said the embassy is in contact with student groups but said both the government of China and the World Health Organization have advised against fleeing the area right now.

“This is a very serious matter,” the ambassador told VOA’s Amharic service. “We are very much concerned, of course, about the situation. But we also have confidence in the prevention and control measures the government of China is taking.”

He added that several different agencies need to work together to organize student evacuations. He said many African embassies are in touch with one another and ready to act, if needed.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Salem Solomon wrote this story for VOANews.com with reporting from Eden Geremew, Sora Halake, Patrick Nnduwimana, Idd Ligongo and Timothée Donangmaye. Jill Robbins adapted her story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

outbreak n. the sudden or violent start of something unwelcome, such a disease

isolation - n. the state of being alone or separated from others

kitchen – n. a room or area where food is prepared

degreen. an award or recognition offered by a school after completion of a study program

wi-fin. technology enabling computers and other electronic devices connect to the internet or communicate with one another wirelessly

evacuate – v. to remove (someone) from a dangerous place

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