In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government asks parents of Nigerian students in China not to panic as it is doing its best to ensure safety and care of foreign nationals and students alike, BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes.
The atmosphere was sombre as parents and relations of Nigerian students in China invited for the press briefing on coronavirus, took their seats in the hall of the Chinese Embassy building in Abuja.
The media swarm about like bees, thirsting for any information that would make the headlines. They were all waiting to hear from the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Zhou Pingjian.
And on behalf of the Nigerian government, two dignitaries representing their ministries were present as well. There were voices, murmurs but it all came ebbed out to an abrupt pause as the Ambassador walked in to the hall to calm frayed nerves and put to rest once and for all the rumours that plagued the coronavirus situation, and care of the Nigerian students in China.
The Ambassador took his seat and after an exchange of polite pleasantries, he set to work to deliver his speech. Concern for the parents and relations, mixed with a look of pure gratitude to well-wishers and the Nigerian government for their show of solidarity during these tough times, etched on his face, as he on behalf of his country expressed this in words.
He then said what most had waited to hear with bated breathes regarding foreigners and foreign students in China, “Foreign nationals are safe in China. According to the professional evaluation of WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros, the safest way for foreign nationals in Wuhan is to stay put and ensure sound protection in accordance to local health regulations.
“The Chinese government attaches great importance to the safety and well-being of foreign nationals, including foreign students. The foreign ministry has directed relevant local departments to take the protection of foreign nationals in China as a high priority and to work hard to address their difficulties.
“Please be assured that we will take all necessary and effective measures to protect the safety and health of Nigerian students in China.
“We have enhanced information disclosure. Local departments have kept local foreign nationals informed in an open and transparent way via websites, Wechat, Weibo and email, posting updates on the epidemic situation through public letters, releasing information on self protection, opening 24 hour multilingual hotlines.
“The host provinces and municipalities of consular missions have held news briefings or video conferences to share updates on the latest development of the epidemic and answer questions. Guangdong Province compiled and circulated a Handbook on the Epidemic Prevention and Control for the consular missions.
“We have worked to guarantee the life needs of foreign nationals. Ensuring the well-being of foreign nationals has been made a priority in the work of local governments and community-level bodies, who have worked hard to meet the needs of foreigner in daily life, epidemic prevention and treatment, and resolve their legitimate concerns to the best of their ability. Consulates have been provided masks, sanitiser and other preventive materials to solve their difficulties.”
Dr. Zhou pointed out firmly that the Chinese government has done its best to treat foreign patients, with local authorities making their best efforts to see that foreign patients are treated in a timely manner and are well taken care of.
“As of February 19, 29 foreign nationals in China had been diagnosed with the COVID-19. Among them, 10 were in Hubei province,there were 18 recovered and discharged cases, 2 deaths and 9 cases under treatment in isolation. No reported cases of Nigerian being diagnosed with COVID-19 in China,” he added.
He further assured that China has tried its best to provide services for international students, as the Chinese government cares about life and health of foreign students “just as we care for our own children,” he pointed out, dispelling fears.
“Leading local officials have either visited foreign students in person or talked to them through video links. For example, Party Secretary of Jiangxi Province visited the more than 500 international students in Nanchang University to offer his support.
“Many universities have launched online courses to provide diverse means of study for international students. All of them have distributed masks and other personal protective supplies to their international students and worked to ensure that they can have meals in canteens through food delivery. Local government agencies have coordinated to complete visa and residence permit procedures for international students. Those who are confirmed to be infected with the virus are under good medical care.
“In Hubei Province, there are 5400- plus international students, including 50 Nigerian students in Wuhan. All universities in the province have taken thoughtful measures. For example: they have launched 41 special hotlines to provide 24/7 counseling for international students; assigned staff to provide free food delivery and buy stuff for students staying in dorms; created Wechat groups consisting of faculty members, volunteers and international students to learn about their needs and situations; provided psychological counselling to ease loneliness, anxiety and fear; with regard to the difficulties reported, school authorities have tried to resolve problems after verifying the situations with the students concerned.
“Having said that, facing such an unprecedented outbreak, it is impossible to have been perfect in our work. There are areas where we are not doing good enough. We welcome your opinions and suggestions and will make improvements accordingly.
“The situation is trending in a positive direction and we are hearing more and more good news but the outbreak is still serious. It is our sincere hope that you will continue to cheer on your Chinese friends and make informed judgments based on information released from authoritative channels.
The Ambassador noted that as at February 24 there were 77658 confirmed cases reported, 64786 cases in Hubei, 47071 cases in Wuhan.
Furthermore, 27323 people had been discharged from hospital after recovery, 18854 people in Hubei, 10337 people in Wuhan.
The death toll was 2663, 2563 deaths in Hubei, 2043 deaths in Wuhan.
The mortality rate in Chinese provinces and cities other than Wuhan was 2.03 per cent ( 620 deaths out of 30587 cases).
The mortality rate outside Hubei Province was 0.78 percent (100 deaths out of 12872 cases).
2824 suspected cases, 2292 cases in Hubei (81.16 percent), 1529 cases in Wuhan (54.14 percent , 66.71 percent of Hubei).
Afterwards, the acting director of the Asia-Pacific division of the Ministry of foreign affairs, Aisha U Dewa, confirmed that there have been no cases of Nigerians diagnosed with the virus in China, advising that parents of students in China should remain calm and patient as the government is doing all it can to take care of its citizens in China, while applauding Nigerians for being well behaved and following instructions.
“Evacuation should be the last option. We have seen efforts of the Chinese government towards that. We are confident China will soon come out of this situation,” she indicated.
Director, Port Services, Federal Ministry Of Health Dr. Morenike Alex-Okoh noted
that as long as Nigerians abide by the measures and WHO guidelines, they will be protected. “We are thankful China has made all the efforts to contain this to protect China and the rest of the world population. We will continue to work together to see an end to this outbreak,” she said.
The President of China Alumni Association in Abuja, Dr Mohammed Suleiman noted, “We have been speaking in Wuhan, giving a platform to reach out to Nigerian students. We write letters to give courage to distinguished students in China and to reach out to parents.”
The association pledged N600,000 to assist Nigerian students living in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China.
The Ambassador added that the oldest person cured of the virus was a 96 years old man, while the youngest cured was only 17 days old baby girl. He said the virus attack was sudden and took the country by surprise as a result leading to several deaths.
A parent at the event pointed out that damage control ought to be carried out by the ministry of Health in Nigeria that during the lockdown which went on for over 34 day’s as of the time he spoke, Nigerian students were not communicated with, while some other nationals were being evacuated by their countries and as such felt neglected by the Nigerian government. He stressed that the ministry should give the students some hope.
Another relation present who simply identified himself as Chibuzo said his only brother was in China studying and was heartbroken by the Nigerian government, especially remarks that were made that students should stay put in China and not come back to Nigeria for the time being.
He also pointed out that the ministry of health had not called a forum to meet with parents or relations of people in China.
A Chief Martins whose son just arrived from China said he was disappointed in the Speaker of the House of Representatives reaction to the situation.
He asked that Nigerian government should communicate with the students in China. He did not doubt that China had adequate facilities to cater for victims of the virus and wondered how prepared Nigeria was. As he commented that why allow students to come back, if they got infected by COVID -19, does Nigeria have enough capacity to treat them here?
A good question for the government and ministry of health to ponder on. While at the same time, the general message grasped from this meeting is simply this: Do Not Panic, in other words as the British would say, ‘Stay Calm, Carry On.’