As Coronavirus kills 426 globally, Nigerians in China cry out: ‘Please Buhari, come and take us home’

Nigerians resident in Chinese provinces affected by the deadly coronavirus disease, say they can't wait to return home.

President Muhammadu Buhari arrives China on April 11, 2016 for a state visit (Presidency)

Last week, Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, told the world that Nigerians in Wuhan, epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, haven’t expressed a desire to return home.

“Even if we have Nigerians who are there, unless they indicate interest that they want to come home, we can’t force them,” Mohammed said.

“I know we have Nigerians in Wuhan; our Embassy in China has confirmed that we have about 16 Nigerians in Wuhan and they are in touch with them.

“They have, however, not indicated their interest to come home. They will, however, contact our embassy if they like to come home,” he added.

However, some Nigerians resident in China tell Pulse that they haven’t been contacted by their government and that their bags are packed and ready for the trip home.

They also say Mohammed’s figure of 16 Nigerians in Wuhan is incorrect.

A Nigerian student in Wuhan who preferred anonymity for this story tells Pulse that “we are about 50 students, some with their spouses and kids. So, maybe we are about 60 or thereabout in total.”

She says the situation in China “is scary, especially with the daily increment in numbers of dead people and new infections. And the lock-down and lack of movement is not helping our mental health as well. So we are all scared and worried aside those with already dwindling resources.”

Asked if the federal government has been in touch with them over evacuation plans, she says; “No, they haven't said anything about evacuating us yet, only that they are abreast of the situation as seen in their various press statements.”

Asked if they are ready to fly back to Nigeria at short notice, she adds that: “Yes, we are ready to leave as soon as possible, my bags have been packed since last week as resumption in various schools have been postponed, indefinitely.

“I expected that by now, my government should have made concrete plans to evacuate those of us in Wuhan, at the epicenter of the crisis, seeing as most countries already did. For instance, the UK and South Korea are on their second trip already…”

The number of coronavirus deaths in mainland China has overtaken the 2003 SARS epidemic. 349 people died from SARS in China over a nine-month period.

Ire Toluhi, 19, who is a student in Nanjing, China, tells Pulse that they have all been self quarantined.

“At the moment, Nanjing isn't on lock-down. The metro and some buses are still functioning, however, everyone is at home.

“We've all been advised to stay home but wear masks and gloves if we go out. There are so many safety precautions we're required to follow. The busiest streets are deserted, open markets have been prohibited, etc.

“The other day when I looked out my window and saw a lady walking her dog and a couple of people strolling, I found myself exclaiming because even though we've been indoors barely two weeks, it felt like it had been such a long time since I saw someone apart from my sister.

"Some people have already run out of food and are too scared to go out and look for stores that might still be open. Some of our friends were locked out of the school dormitory because they returned late after the virus situation was announced (they didn't know there was a new curfew). Thankfully, they have a place to stay off campus," Toluhi says.

Nigeria's foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama and an aide, did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

Toluhi adds that the Chinese economy has been left reeling from the outbreak.

Economists estimate that the coronavirus disease may have already cost China some $62 billion.

“I think China's economy is suffering greatly from this pandemic because this whole thing was announced a week before the most important holiday in China- the spring festival, which is the Chinese New Year.

"People usually spend a lot of money in this season, but now, all the shops apart from some community stores, are closed. Every single tourist attraction is dormant, all gatherings of more than six people have been prohibited, most hotels have been closed down for now.

“Apple Stores, Starbucks, IKEA, and many other foreign/local businesses have been shut down indefinitely. Anywhere people might be able to gather at all has been shuttered.

“The only companies "benefiting" from this might be the telecommunications, utility, and pharmaceutical industries. Either way, it's still a loss for China as a whole,” says Toluhi.

Another student and businessman of Nigerian descent in Hubei province, China, Caius Ugochukwu, says “as it stands, Wuhan city is locked down, no one can leave and no one can enter. For us to come back to Nigeria, we need the Nigerian government to dialogue with the Chinese government. Just like the U.S. has done.

“If the means is provided, yes I believe everyone would like to go back home to Nigeria. For us to leave Wuhan and come back, government intervention is needed.

“I'd also add that Nigerians in Wuhan are over 50. And they need utmost attention from the government, they need provisions. If the government can do something, we'll appreciate it. We still believe in Nigeria and its government.”

The virus has been confirmed in more than 25 countries and territories since it was first detected in Wuhan in December.

Nigerian government officials recently debunked rumours of the respiratory virus in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital and most populous city.

The Chinese Consul-General in Nigeria, Chu Maoming, says there is no suspected or confirmed case of the virus in Nigeria at the moment. He adds that the 34 persons who recently visited China, returned to Lagos more than 20 days ago, and were declared free of the virus.

International researchers are working on a vaccine that could cure the coronavirus and halt its spread across borders.

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