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Senegalese, Ethiopian students in Wuhan speak of coping under Coronavirus lockdown

A man walks down the deserted streets of Wuhan, 31 January, 2020.
A man walks down the deserted streets of Wuhan, 31 January, 2020. NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

As the Chinese government puts Wuhan and neighbouring cities at the epicentre of the coronoavirus outbreak on lockdown, African students are trying to deal with the situation as they wait to hear if and when their governments will repatriate them.


“We've been in lockdown for nearly 12 days today and we don't go outside because there isn't really much to do. And if you have stock of food or water, it's better not to go out unless it's necessary,” says Soliana Aregawi, an Ethiopian university student studying in Wuhan.

A large number of foreigners who have been affected by the lockdown are students. Wuhan, referred to by one Chinese educational website as “the Chicago of China”, referring to the American midwestern industrial city, is home to 12 universities.

According to the World Health Organisation, China has recorded some 361 deaths, 17,238 confirmed infections and 151 confirmed cases in 23 countries and 1 death which was reported from the Philippines on Sunday, 

Aregawi has been living in Wuhan for more than four years, studying economics as an undergraduate and now graduate student. She lives in an apartment, which she believes is a better option than some of the 300 Ethiopian students living in Wuhan or the 100 in neighbouring cities in Hubei province who are also locked down.

She is on a group chat with other Ethiopian students and she says that the universities are providing food for them, and have even opened an online platform where students can order groceries and have them delivered.

“But we've also heard stories of schools maybe not providing what is required of them. Since everything is closed, you only rely on the school,” Aregawi tells RFI.

“We've heard stories that some are not in a good situation and your conditions are not being met, and what they need are not being met. So it really depends on where you are and what school you're in,” she says.

Aregawi added that while everyone wants to be evacuated, the Ethiopian government was holding a meeting in the capital Addis Ababa to determine what they were going to do with the students.

Senegal students want to leave

There are 13 students in Wuhan, according to Bécaye Cissokho Ndiaye, the Beijing-based president of the Senegalese Students Association in China. He said that an aide from the Senegalese embassy is trying to help them, but they want to get out of the city, he said.

“Right now, what they want is to return home. But if they can’t be repatriated, they want to be evacuated to another city,” says Ndiaye.  “Being there is very difficult, because some people are getting hysterical over this, because of the virus and that their freedom is curtailed.” 

The 13 students are studying at different universities and are staying in their rooms, only going out to get food. Some are trying to get supplies without going downstairs.

They have told Ndiaye that the streets are deserted, but there are a few people on the street.

“In Beijing, the people are pretty calm. It’s true that we are under the same restrictions with our university. There are times that we can go outside and they give us passes. Our movement is limited and we are taking precautions but it’s ok,” he says.

Aregawi tells RFI that she is safe, but that it is hard to stay inside the house for so long.

“I’m an outdoor person… so I’m not used to staying inside, but it’s for the greater good, I guess, so I’m dealing with it,” she says.

She says that her parents are worried and call every day, but she has nothing new to report, except to tell them she’s fine.

The Senegalese student president says he is concerned for the students in Wuhan.

“On our level, we don’t think about ourselves, because what worries us is our fellow countrymen who are in Wuhan, because they are more under threat. We have a representative there who we speak to frequently. We are pretty calm over here in Beijing, though,” he says.

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