Nigerians are currently trapped in Chinese city Wuhan, the epic centre of the coronavirus outbreak, it was announced on Monday.
A total of 60 Nigerians trapped in the city, are making a passionate appeal to the Nigerian Embassy in China and the Nigerian Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) to evacuate them.
According to them, their request for the embassy to send face masks and other protective items has not received a positive response.
Many countries have evacuated their citizens since the virus broke out late last year in the city, while no cure has been found for the disease which has killed 361 people.
Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Zhou Pingjian, who confirmed that 60 Nigerians, including a man on a visit and a sick student, said no Nigerian in China had contracted the disease.
The plea by the trapped Nigerians and Pingjian’s confirmation contradict Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed’s on their figure and safety.
Mohammed last week told reporters in Abuja that “16 Nigerians in Wuhan had not indicated their interest to come home”.
361 lives have been lost out of the 17,205 confirmed and 21, 558 suspected cases so far.
Two of the trapped Nigerians, who spoke with TheCable, an online news portal on Monday, said they were ready to return home because things could get worse in China.
One of them said, “When this virus broke out, the Nigerian embassy in China contacted us and asked us to form a group on WeChat (a multipurpose messaging social media app) where all Nigerians who are in Wuhan could communicate on the latest development.”
“We told them that none of us had contracted the virus but we were worried and needed to be evacuated. But they told us to exercise patience since no country had evacuated their citizens because of the outbreak.
“We then asked them to provide us with face masks and some items that we could use, especially those of us who have children.
“Purchasing items have been difficult since the outbreak of this epidemic. The masks are no longer available in stores that open briefly on a daily basis and if you go online, they are very expensive.
“We are more than 57 Nigerians in Wuhan and government has banned public movement without masks. We expected the embassy to assist us with this but nothing of such happened.”
The businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also claimed that all efforts by them to reach the Nigerian Ambassador to China, Ahmad Jidda and an official of the embassy in Beijing, Bakori Usman, who contacted them in the early days of the outbreak, ended in futility.
Another trapped Nigerian in Wuhan accused the embassy of not handling the situation properly.
He said, “The situation is getting out of hand. There is a Nigerian here who just came on a visit; he was about returning home when the virus broke out. Now he is trapped. There is a student who was sick and was finding it difficult to get adequate treatment here.
“Plans were being made to move him out of China before this issue of coronavirus outbreak; now he is also trapped. There are people with children here, how does the government expect them to cope when the city is virtually on lock down?
“We are stranded here. The Federal Government should please rescue us… shops are closed and banks shut. We find it difficult to get the things we need. We don’t know how long this situation will continue.”
He claimed that they had written the Chairperson of NIDCOM, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, seeking help but no form of assistance had been rendered.
TheCable reported that when it contacted the spokesman for the NIDCOM chairperson, Abdur-Rahman Balogun, he said there are no plans to evacuate the trapped persons.
Balogun said “Let them come if they are willing to… we have made arrangements for their safety in China but if they want to come on their own volition, no problem”.
Asked why there were no plans for their evacuation, he replied: “Discuss with Foreign Affairs(Ministry) if it has to do with evacuation”.
The Chinese Ambassador, Dr. Pingjian, who gave an update on the virus in Abuja, also debunked the claim by the trapped Nigerians that the Nigerian authorities had abandoned them.
He said ” Our checks with your (Nigerian) embassy, there(China) show there are 60 and not 16 Nigerians in Wuhan now.
“Your embassy has maintained regular communication with them and this moment, no one raised any issue about moving out of Wuhan. So, as I said, we keep full transparency of information and measures, so any system you need to see, you can go to the authorities.
He assured that the Chinese government “is committed to safeguarding the safety and health of the Chinese people … and every foreign national in China, including the Nigerian expatriates”.
He noted “We are ready to address their legitimate concerns in a timely manner. We will continue to strengthen communication and coordination with the international community and work hand in hand for the epidemic prevention and control”.
Pingjian said the Chinese authorities had confirmed 17,205 cases while 2,296 patients are in serious conditions. Of the confirmed cases, the envoy said, 475 have been discharged after recovery from the disease, while he revealed that there are still 21, 558 suspected cases.
As part of the efforts to address the situation, he said, 1, 000-bed makeshift hospitals had been built and already in use to admit more people, adding that the hospital was built within nine days.
The Ambassador said “as of today, no Nigerian in China or Chinese in Nigeria is infected with the coronavirus”.
He was also sure that with adequate measures, it was possible to prevent the spread of the virus to Nigeria.
He said “We in the embassy lose no sleep about the epidemic because we can tell that Nigerian government following the advice of WHO has taken very rational and appropriate measures and we believe, with the good efforts from international communities, we can prevent and curb the spread of the epidemic”.