Please bring us back home, Kenyans still stuck in China plead  

Wednesday March 18 2020
Kariuki

Outgoing Health CS Sicily Kariuki briefs the media on coronavirus prevention and preparedness outside Harambee House in Nairobi on February 7, 2020. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ELIZABETH MERAB
By ANGELA OKETCH

The living conditions of Kenyan students stuck in China in the wake of coronavirus outbreak continues to deteriorate by the day.

On Friday evening, we got in touch with at least 10 of them and from their accounts, besides fears of catching the virus, they said they might starve as they were running out of basic supplies.

“...There is no end in sight. The mental anguish that comes with staying in a place ravished by a deadly virus is hard to explain. I just want to come home,” one of them said.

“My supply of basic needs is running low. Although I can buy them, the prices of most of these items have almost doubled. Recently, I bought two cabbages at 25 RMB (approx. Sh400).

“Ordinarily, both would not have cost me more than 8 RMB! Now imagine the cost accrued due to buying them in bulk, including other more expensive food items such as rice, potatoes and tomatoes whose prices have also hit the roof. In one shopping recently, I spent 245 RMB (about Sh3,500) for food items that would barely last four days,” one of the students told the Saturday Nation.

NO SUPPLIES

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News of the government retracting its decision to evacuate at least 85 Kenyan students who are trapped in disease-torn Wuhan, China, following an outbreak of the coronavirus has angered many, who have termed the move inconsiderate.

As of Friday, Chinese government figures showed the virus had killed at least 636 people and infected at least 31,161, and many believe those official statistics are far from complete.

Cases have also been reported in at least 24 countries around the world. With infections doubling every four days, China intensified its response in Wuhan, with house-to-house temperature checks and mass confinements at quarantine centres.

Some of the students have now run out of food and toiletries, and are pleading with the government to replenish their basic needs.

“The school cannot provide everything. We can’t go to the malls for fear of contracting the virus.”

EXTREME MEASURES

President Uhuru Kenyatta had hinted that they would be evacuated. But there was a caveat that the evacuation would only happen after China lifts the ongoing quarantine, which from all indication will be in place until the virus is contained, and that could take months.

The Chinese authorities resorted to increasingly extreme measures in Wuhan on Thursday to try to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus, ordering house-to-house searches, rounding up the sick and warehousing them in quarantine centres. The steps were announced by the top official leading the country’s response to the virus, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, as she visited Wuhan on Thursday.

With the sick being herded into makeshift quarantine camps, with minimal medical care, a growing sense of abandonment and fear has taken hold in Wuhan, The NewYork Times reported.

“Today. They [Kenyan Embassy in China] were asking for contact persons of our relatives,” a master’s degree student told the Saturday Nation.

NEWS SPREAD

As the rest of the world was adjusting to the news of the virus fast spreading across China, one student narrated how most of them got to learn of what was happening:

“I got to know it from various news outlets and WeChat groups. But at that time, it was just said to be some sort of pneumonia and that it could not be transmitted from human to human.

"For the best part of January, we kept hearing about the virus but I didn’t pay attention to it. In the week before the lockdown, we read that it had been confirmed that the virus could be transmitted from one person to another. But I started worrying when we heard of the first death, and another soon after that. Soon there were four deaths, 10, 17....then the lockdown was announced.

"After the first death, the number of infections and deaths went up fast, and have been on the rise ever since,” said the 29-year-old student who first arrived in Wuhan in 2017.

Another student, 33, said, “I’m doing PhD and my wife is a master’s student. We are both civil servants in Kenya, brought here by the Kenyan government in 2017 under the Chinese scholarship council. We have our three-year-old girl with us. My wife is also five months’ pregnant. We really need to get out of here."

"TOTAL DARKNESS"

In a letter to the Foreign Affairs office, the students asked for quick intervention since most of them can no longer keep calm.

In the statement with the names of 91 students, they indicated that the whole city is under lock and that it is impossible to get basic items.

“We are in total darkness and, with each passing day, the situation is getting unbearable. Some of our students do not have food, while others are getting into depression due to the fear and uncertainty surrounding this issue,” said the letter signed by officials of the Kenyan Students in Wuhan Association.

But in Nairobi, Foreign Affairs PS Kamau Macharia on Friday restated the government’s position that it would not evacuate the students in Wuhan, the epicenter of coronavirus.

“The students are safe where they are,” said Mr Macharia.

LOCAL MEASURES

Meanwhile, the government has assured the public that the reagents for coronavirus will arrive in the country today as Kenya moves to equip its laboratories with supplies for testing and identifying the virus.

Outgoing Health CS Sicily Kariuki said the tests for the seven suspected cases had all turned negative but the country was still on high alert.

She noted that the Ministry of Health had set aside an additional 120-bed ward as an isolation centre at the new wing of Mbagathi Hospital as part of the country’s preparedness efforts.

The new ward adds to the 60-bed isolation ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital.

“We are continuing to build the necessary capacity as a precaution. We expect the reagents and all the necessary test kits today,” said Ms Kariuki. “We have also heightened our surveillance in the 34 points of entry.”

The lack of the required reagents, a laboratory mixture and other crucial kits have over the past few weeks forced Kenya to send samples of the suspected coronavirus cases to South Africa.

Additional reporting by Annie Njanja.