Jamaicans at epicentre of coronavirus want to come home

A Jamaican master’s degree student living in Wuhan — the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China — says he and other Jamaicans want to come home, as anxiety heightens over the deadly disease that has so far spread to 18 countries.

Norville Belvett told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that he and other Jamaicans living in the Hubei province were not of the impression that they needed to officially ask the Jamaican Government to be repatriated.

“We were never told that we needed to request repatriation. In fact, most of us were of the opinion that something was being sorted out on our behalf,” he said.

Belvett, who lamented that he would rather be “anywhere” but his current location, said he has now made an official request of the Jamaican Embassy in Beijing, to get him out of China.

He said he is the only Jamaican studying at Wuhan University of Technology now, but he is aware of 29 other Jamaicans living in the Hubei capital.

Belvett said he is awaiting word from the Jamaican Embassy there, but that, in the meantime, the Jamaican Government needs to send clear messages as to its plans for its citizens in Wuhan, as any misinformation at this point is feeding into the growing sense of panic.

“We are on edge,” he reiterated yesterday.

“I’m not here to bash any government, I am just here wanting to know what you have planned for us. The first step is to start to talk to us… I’m not saying the embassy staff isn’t trying, but I know the embassy is only saying what they are told to say. I didn’t know I had to tell somebody that I want to come back,” he said, adding that other Jamaicans in Wuhan with whom he is in touch have made it clear, too, that they want to come home.

“Tell us what is going on. People are there with babies… Have us here not knowing is worse than the virus itself,” he remarked.

Belvett said he understands the fact that Jamaica may not have the resources to airlift its nationals out of China like other countries have been doing, but that the government should at least make it clear what the long-term plan is for them.

He said teachers have lost contracts that are not being renewed, as schools have been shut down. Students on Government scholarships, such as himself, are also heavily dependent on assistance from the Government and relatives back home, but with banks and other institutions closed, it will be harder to get resources to them for basic living, such as food.

Belvett emphasised that the Government must now make it clear how it plans to support its citizens in Wuhan, as the way they are currently receiving information is not adequate.

He noted that the Hubei provincial Government has recommended that those in Wuhan remain there for the virus incubation period of 14 days, from the 24th of January, before they can leave.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said, so far, 29 Jamaicans have registered with the embassy in China. However, there are hundreds of Jamaicans living and studying across China.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith said the ministry continues to closely monitor the welfare of the Jamaican community in China, and that the embassy has strengthened its outreach to Jamaicans in the Wuhan area.

“In addition to using the embassy’s e-mail, the chat group has been instrumental in facilitating the registration of nationals with the embassy and for allowing them to keep in touch with each other for support. Our embassy staff has also, of course, been fielding telephone calls from Jamaican nationals in other locations in China and offering advice and guidance,” she said.

The foreign affairs minister advised that in order to address the concerns being raised by the individuals in the Wuhan group, regarding food and supplies, the embassy was able to obtain from the Hubei Foreign Affairs Office a list of 24-hour hotlines available to foreigners to provide them with assistance and guidance during the crisis.

“This was immediately shared with our nationals and we understand that they have since had direct assistance through this medium,” she said.

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