Have been asked to stay in as much as possible
Pakistani students studying in China are confined to their dorms and been told by their universities not to go out as much as the authorities grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.
“The warden of our dorm has a thermometer to check temperature when we enter and we’re told to sanitize with the alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” said Ghalia, a student from Sialkot in Sichuan. “The precautions are general, nothing specific. I bought a N95 mask, as well as the surgical ones. I’m in a medical university, so on some level, we’re acquainted with the basic healthcare dynamics.”
So far, 106 people have died in China and more than 4,500 others have been infected. The coronavirus, according to the WHO, is a large family of viruses that can cause anything from the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS and SARS.
According to student Ghalia, since one of the first major symptoms to appear are fever and cough with blood spots, they had been asked to report it and go to the hospital. “Masks and protective clothing are in short supply,” she told SAMAA Digital.
Her medical university has been asking for donations amid the shortages. As the teaching hospital is one of the major ones in the city, Ghalia felt that this was an indication of just how bad it was.
Shortages are driving prices up. According to one student a simple triple-ply surgical mask costs one yuan ordinarily but are being hawked for 190 yuan for a pack of three. It is the same with food: Regular green chilies have shot up to six yuan for half a kilo from 0.30 yuan.
One yuan is roughly Rs22 so 190 yuan comes to Rs4,180.
There are images making the rounds on social media of people picking up used masks and re-selling them. “Most of the information I obtain is through Twitter or the unofficial university group,” added Ghalia. “Officially, the school hasn’t sent us many updates. Chinese media is strictly controlled so they’re trying not to cause a mass hysteria.”
Even videos recorded by private individuals in Wuhan and circulating on the internet are constantly debunked to show that there’s no need for mass panic, she added.
A Pakistani student in Suzhou province also told SAMAA Digital that many fake videos were going around. “People are paranoid but I think that this just might help contain it,” he said. Suzhou province is close to ground zero. This student, who did not want to be named, said that their priority was to get everyone screened as the virus has a long incubation period without symptoms. Even the police are roaming around with thermometers and the staff at his dormitory are conducting weekly checks.
“Right now, if you have the symptoms, you go to the hospital for a few days and are then monitored,” he said. “Around 13 people infected in my province were discharged two days ago. They were also tested for SARS and MERS.” Classes have been delayed and students have been asked to stay in their dorms as much as possible and get their temperature checked daily.
“They have also restricted transport. From what I hear, Beijing is currently on indefinite holiday,” he added. “We have been asked to stay in but people are going out since it’s the holidays. People are scared to stay in.” China celebrates the spring festival (Lunar New Year) in January so cities often empty out as people head home to the countryside. “The situation in Wuhan is definitely worse but in cities like Shanghai, it is less busy,” he added. Sometimes, it is worth noting, there are food shortages in the cities during the spring festival. “Last year, without the virus scare, I still had to get bulk supplies because markets shut down and I needed to stock up on water and food,” he said. “It’s a general practice for foreigners.”
The Foreign Office has said that the Pakistani Embassy in China was actively monitoring the situation in Wuhan. Ghalia added that some of her classmates had booked tickets to fly home.
According to a statement issued by China’s education ministry last year, there are more than 28,000 Pakistani students studying in China.