Nepalis in China make frantic pleas to return home

Kathmandu, February 7

Nepalis living in the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicentre of novel coronavirus outbreak, have started making frantic requests to the government to evacuate them at the earliest, as more and more people are dying or getting infected by the disease in China.

The government formally initiated the process of evacuating its citizens from China last week when Nepali Embassy in Beijing called on Nepalis living in Hubei to submit applications if they wished to return home. On Sunday 180 students, including three children, had filed applications. But since then the government has not done much to evacuate them, while the condition of Nepalis in China is worsening.

“We are now forced to use tap water because there is lack of drinking water in the hostel. There is also shortage of food, including vegetables. And the college has been providing same type of food for days and it doesn’t taste good,” said Dr Gaurab Pokhrel, a PhD candidate at Tongji Medical Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

Worse, students like Pokhrel have been confined to their rooms for days while students of many other countries have already been evacuated. “Life has come to a halt,” said Pokhrel, who a few days ago had told THT that he did not want to return to Nepal. “And all the while the number of coronavirus cases is rising. We don’t know till when we can save ourselves,” he added.

The Embassy of Nepal in China also confirmed that many students in China were facing mental stress. “Those who were behaving normally earlier and were counselling others too are panicking,” said Sushil Lamsal, deputy chief of mission, Embassy of Nepal in China.

The guardians of Nepali students in China today visited Minister of Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali and requested him to confirm the evacuation date. But the minister could not make any commitment. He only said the work was in process, according to a ministry source.

“If the state cannot evacuate us then it should clearly say so,” said Pokhrel, adding, “This is an emergency situation and the government should work swiftly in the crisis situation.”

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli yesterday directed the line agencies to bring Nepalis back from China and quarantine them at four places in Kathmandu valley — Shivapuri, Surya Binayak, Ichangu Narayan and Kharipati.

“So far, the location to quarantine China returnees has not been finalised,” said Mahendra Shrestha, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Population, who passed the buck on evacuation of Nepalis to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.

“It is the civil aviation ministry’s job to bring back Nepalis. The health ministry will only look into the health of Nepalis returning from China,” said Shrestha.

According to sources, Nepal has not been able to bring its citizens back from China as the government is yet to meet the World Health Organisation’s standard on evacuation.

“The evacuation process has been delayed because most of the infrastructure is still not in place,” said a source.

Health experts have been saying that there should be a proper place to quarantine China returnees. Also, there should be isolation wards in hospitals and health workers should be available round the clock.

“We need to adhere to international standards before evacuating our people. It will take a few more days. We also need to train crew members who will bring back our people,” the source said.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 636 in China and one each in Hong Kong and the Philippines. At least 25 countries have confirmed cases of coronavirus.