Coronavirus Scare: African Students Trapped in China as Home Countries Deny Reentry

The coronavirus is spreading fast beyond its China borders, with cases now rising in parts of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the U.S.

Some 90,000 people have been infected in over 65 countries and at least 3,000 worldwide have died of COVID-19; including six in the Seattle area. There has been a total of 100 cases in the U.S.

As soon as the virus emerged, the World Health Organization named 13 countries in Africa (Algeria, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) at greatest risk of acquiring the virus, due to established direct links or frequent travel to and from China.

Yet few active cases have been reported in sub-Saharan Africa so far.

“This is the question that everyone is asking,” said Amadou Alpha Sall, head of the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal. “Whether it’s a matter of faulty detection, climatic factors or simple fluke, the remarkably low rate of coronavirus infection in African countries, with their fragile health systems, continues to puzzle — and worry.”

Thumbi Ndung’u, director of Santhe, a Durban-based research center, said: “I don’t think anybody knows why Africa appears to be unscathed, possibly because there isn’t much travel to that particular part of China from Africa — back and forth.”

Yet, according to Quartz Africa, some 4,600 African students may be unwilling exiles, unable to return home from China for fear of contagion.

Countries keeping nationals abroad include Ghana, Uganda and Kenya.

Ghana has no plans yet to repatriate its nationals. The National Union of Ghana Students called for the immediate evacuation of Ghanaians in Wuhan.

Uganda has reportedly denied repatriation to an estimated 67 Ugandan students in Wuhan.

Last week, dozens of African students staged a silent protest at Wuhan University of Science and Technology holding signs saying please, please, please bring us home. In Nigeria, local TV ran a video plea from an unnamed Nigerian student.

Hundreds of Kenyans are stuck in China. Foreign affairs secretary Macharia Kamau says that students are “safe where they are.” Kenya has only 1 doctor per 5,000 citizens and spends only 4.7 of its GDP on health care — well below the global average.

South Africa will be the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to evacuate its citizens from China and affected areas.

Kopo Oromeng, a Botswana student at the University of Delaware started a petition to “Evacuate African Students from Wuhan, Hubei”

“What does the AU stand for, if it cannot stand for the lives of black young students at a time of need?

“Our African students in Wuhan do not deserve to be stranded for so long. We are their voice in this tragedy,” commented a signee.  

Global Information Network creates and distributes news and feature articles on current affairs in Africa to media outlets, scholars, students and activists in the U.S. and Canada.

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