Timorese Students Stranded, Running Out of Food in Wuhan

Timorese Students Stranded, Running Out of Food in Wuhan

Timorese students taking shelter in their Wuhan dormitories, with the city in lockdown following the coronavirus outbreak (Image/supplied)

DILI 27 January, 2019 (TATOLI) — A group of Timorese students studying in Wuhan are calling on the government to  help evacuate them from China, fearing they’ll succumb to the virus that’s killed 39 people in the city.

The 19 students, who are living in the central Chinese city on scholarships, say they’re running low on food supplies, and  are anxious to get out.

They’re alongside more than 50 million Chinese residents are stranded in the containment zone, after authorities shut airports and cancelled public transport services last week.

Nicodino da Cruz, from Los Palos, is studying civil engineering at the China University of Geosciences in the city, and is one of the students.

“We feel afraid because the corona virus has spread for almost two weeks [while] we are locked up in our dormitory,” he told TATOLI.

Timorese engineering student, Nicodino da Cruz (Image/Facebook)

The virus has killed at least 80 people in China as of Monday. The epicentre of the outbreak is Hubei province, which includes the city of Wuhan, where 76 people have died. The proximity has made the Timorese students very nervous.

“The university prohibits us from going out unless we use masks  to cover our face and wash our hand with disinfectant,” he said

“Given the current situation, we ask the government to evacuate us from this place,” he said.

“We can wait until the virus has cleared, [then] we will come back again to China.”

MNEK await permission from China

Foreign Affairs Minister  Dionísio da Costa Babo Soares said in a statement that his department (MNEK) is in contact with the Chinese Ambassador to Timor-Leste to help protect the Timorese students.

“Now we are waiting for the updated information from the Timor-Leste Embassy in China,” he said.

He said his latest update (Friday) informed him the 19 students, spread across seven universities in Hubei, were all in good health. And through the TL Embassy, MNEK staff will monitor the group.

“To date, no country has been able to bring its people [home] or enter from Wuhan, therefore, we await more information from the Chinese government,” he said.

The Council of Ministers passed a resolution on Monday to assess the cost of evacuating the students. The Minister for Higher Education, Longuinhos dos Santos, said that may not necessarily involve flying the students home.

“The first solution is a rapid evacuation of our scholarship students from Wuhan to other province[s] in China not affected by coronavirus, [such] as Shanghai,” he said.

The council also passed a resolution last week to bolster health screening at the country’s ports, airports and border. Six thermo-scan devices have been imported, and staff at the Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili have begun checking incoming patients for symptoms of the virus.

Shops shuttered, food supplies dwindling

Chinese authorities initially blamed the Wuhan seafood market for the spread of the virus – although some new research suggests transmission to humans may have occurred much earlier.

Timor-Leste student Zelita Viegas told TATOLI the market is now shut, and even local supermarkets are starting to close. And she’s worried her group will run out of food entirely.

The students’ food supplies (Image/Zelita Viegas)

“Now we are totally rationing our foods because all the supermarkets are closed, even the 24-hour supermarket is closed. We don’t know the exact date will it be opened again,” she said.

She said while the students have no choice but to follow the instructions coming from Chinese authorities.

“We continue to lock ourselves in, to avoid…[contracting] corona virus. We continue to pray that there will be a faster way [out] for us,” Zelita said.

Take the rest of the week off

Meanwhile the Chinese government has extended the annual Lunar New Year holiday in an effort to temporarily limit travel.

Workers will now get an additional three days off, returning to work on February 3.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel during the holiday, either for tourism or to visit family, and the festivities typically include large public events. But many events have been cancelled this year, and major tourist attractions — such as the Great Wall of China — are closed.

Read the original Tetum reports here: Timorese students call for evacuation from epicentre of coronavirus outbreak; and here MNEK to Contact Chinese Ambassador About Stranded Wuhan Students and Governu Sei Aprezenta Kustu Evakuasaun Estudante Bolseiru Iha Wuhan Ba KM

Editor’s note: This story was updated Tuesday morning to reflect comments from the Council of Ministers meeting.

Journalist: Florencio Miranda Ximenes, Francisco Simões

Editors: Robert Baird; Xisto Freitas, Maria Auxiliadora

Translation: Nelia Borges


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