African scholars flee China as coronavirus scourge deepens

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From Yao Yuanhui in Guangzhou, China

AFRICAN students are leaving China in droves as
the death toll from the coronavirus (COVID-19) wreaking havoc in the
Asian country soars above 2 000.

The university students’ travel back home, however, has taken a blow after
it emerged airlines were taking advantage of the situation to charge the
desperate students steep airfares.

Investigations by CAJ News Africa China Bureau established the airlines
were charging between US$1 500 (R22 575) to $3 800 (R57 190) for a
one-way trip.

An estimated 60 000 students in China are from African countries.

Many who spoke to CAJ News Africa insisted they would only return to
China to continue their studies if the virus was brought under control.

Currently, there appears to be no end in sight to the disease which has
claimed 2 128 lives from 75 727 cases at the time of publication.

A Zambia student said he had travelled by train from Foshan to Guangzhou
to connect to a flight to Johannesburg in South Africa.

“Air travel agents are inflating rates to ensure we remain in China but
we cannot afford to be pushed back," the Zambian scholar said.

He requested anonymity fearing retribution.

Other students complained they were going hungry as they could not buy
food at some places because of restrictions placed around the outbreak.

“Apart from escaping the COVID-19 outbreak, we are experiencing food
challenges. These days, we don't eat the food of our choice because
universities buy Chinese foodstuffs which we are not familiar with,” a
Kenyan student said.

One Zimbabwean scholar also speaking on condition of anonymity said: "It
is better to be home where we can eat and drink whatever we liked, than
to be confronted by both COVID-19 and hunger."

Several Asian and Middle East countries have detected or reported cases
of COVID-19.

At the time of going to press, South Korea had reported 24 new cases,
Japan had ten, Singapore reported four cases while Hong Kong has three.

Malaysia reported two cases while Iran, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates
(UAE) and Thailand had reported one each.

There are rising suspicions that the disease that was first reported in
Wuhan, a city of 8 million people, was bioengineered elsewhere.

However, a group of 27 scientists shot down the speculation.

“The rapid, open, and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is
now being threatened by rumours and misinformation around its origins,"
the scientists from nine countries said in a statement published online
by The Lancet.

The scientists added, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy
theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”

The disease is linked to bats.

Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology have insisted there is
no link between the outbreak and their laboratory.

- CAJ News

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