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Turning to God under Wuhan coronavirus lockdown

FILE PHOTO: A man walks along the Financial Street in central Beijing, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 3, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: A man walks along the Financial Street in central Beijing, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 3, 2020. Jason Lee/File Photo/Reuters

A Wuhan-based Zambian student has spoken about his faith in coping with the coronavirus as the death toll from the pneumonia-like epidemic reached 1,113, while in mainland China on Wednesday.

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It has been three weeks since China closed off Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million people and a major transport hub.

The lockdown, unprecedented, shows no signs of ending.

While they wait, people like Rennox Chisenga, a Zambian student from Wuhan University, have found ways of killing the time.

“Luckily, I don't live alone," he jokes.

"I live with a country mate [from Zambia]. And we've got a two-bedroom apartment. There's a living room, a kitchen and a balcony. So actually, we keep ourselves entertained. We've got some video games, Internet. And that's been good for our mental health," he told RFI.

Tens of millions of people are now unable to leave Wuhan - five times the size of Greater London - and located in Hubei.

Record toll

On Monday, some 103 people died in the northern Chinese province where the outbreak began in December. It was the highest toll recorded in any one 24-hour period.

There has been criticism over the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak and public outcry after the death of a doctor who tried to warn authorities of the mysterious virus, but was silenced by police.

China "removed" several senior officials over the crisis on Tuesday, including the party secretary for the Hubei Health Commission, thus giving in to public emotion.

Chisenga though, says he trusts the local authorities to bring the virus under control.

"They've been very helpful... supplying masks for free, food as well, and giving us advice on how to stay safe," he explains.

Nevertheless, the World Health Organization has warned that recent cases of coronavirus patients who had never visited China could spark a "bigger fire."

A British man passed on the virus to at least 11 other people without setting foot in Beijing.

WHO medical experts and scientists arrived in China on Monday to help officials contain and study the outbreak, which has now killed over 1,000 people the world over, with most deaths reported in Wuhan.

Calm in crisis

It may seem a scary time to be in the crisis-hit city but residents like Chisenga are turning to God to cope.

"Surprisingly, I’ve been calm. I don't know why, but I just have this supernatural sense that I'm going to be all right," says the 25-year old software engineering student, who comes from a Christian family.

His attachment to Christianity may appear odd in a country where religious persecution is intensifying, but Chisenga says he has unshakable faith.

"I’ve got my mother, sister and brother at home praying for me. And that actually makes me feel really at peace."

As travel restrictions at the locked-down epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak get tighter, Chisenga admits that he misses his freedom.

"I miss moving around to other parts of the city by taxi. We don't have any public transport, we can't take the bus. We can't even call an Uber. So we're basically stuck in the same area and can't really do the fun things that we used to do, like hang out with friends or play football." 

There has been no official announcement so far as to when the lockdown will be lifted, but according to Chisenga, police are suggesting that schools could reopen at the end of the month.

Love of China

The 25-year-old is one of 200 Zambian students currently stranded in Wuhan.

Zambia has resisted calls to repatriate the students, out of fears the virus could spread further.

"It's really shocking for me that they decided that we should stay put and rely on the help that we're getting from the Chinese government," Chisenga commented.

Ill-equipped, health systems in many African countries are scrambling to prepare for a potential outbreak of the highly infectious disease.

"After being here for so long, I'm starting to feel like we should stay, we’re able to beat this from here," continues Chisenga, who already sees an end to the virus.

Once a cure is found, he hopes to pursue a Masters degree at Wuhan University, refusing to give in to prejudice against Chinese people.

"China is like a second home to me and Chinese people are very friendly. It's been a very difficult time for them and we would like to show them that we are in this together."

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