Coronavirus News Asia

Chinese students scramble to get home

Beijing is reviewing its options and the protocols involved in helping the 1.6 million school and college students studying in Europe and North America – a number close to the population of Philadelphia – to get home.

Many are either stranded in a third country as they rushed home to flee the raging coronavirus pandemic or wondering if they should remain or leave, with many running out of masks and medication or denied access to medical help.

Cadres from a number of ministries responsible for health, education, foreign affairs and civil aviation told a joint press conference on Thursday that there were more than 410,000 Chinese students in the United States alone, and the corresponding figures in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia and New Zealand were 230,000, 220,000 and 280,000 respectively.

About 180,000 had already returned home since mid-February amid the lemming-like scramble to get tickets as the virus crept beyond China’s borders and started to strike down people in the West. About 36 Chinese students overseas have already come down with Covid-19 so far.

Beijing’s official line remains that Chinese students should exercise prudence, take no chances and stay put for the sake of their studies and visas, unless there was a compelling reason to fly home.

Chinese media reported that Beijing would soon hand out 11 million masks and half a million personal hygiene kits to the students via its embassies, consulates and Chinese expats associations in about one week, as the cargo weighing 300 tons was already on its way to Italy, France, Germany, the US, Canada, Australia and other destinations on Air China and China Eastern jets.

Medical supplies are loaded onto a China Eastern jet bound for Italy. Photos: Xinhua

Officials have also hinted that Beijing has an obligation to look after overseas Chinese, especially youngsters, and help them get home in the worst-case scenario if the contagion on both sides of the Atlantic continues to spiral out of control.

In that case, chartering flights to fly more than 1 million Chinese students home may become the biggest airlift Beijing has ever had to do.

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