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Foreigners stranded in Wuhan by virus tell of fear and rations

German nationals evacuated Wuhan wait on a bus to be taken to quarantine after arriving at Frankfurt airport German nationals evacuated Wuhan wait on a bus to be taken to quarantine after arriving at Frankfurt airport AFP Photo/Boris Roessler

Hunkered down at the epicentre of China’s virus epidemic and cut off from the world, the remaining foreigners in Wuhan are eking out a life in fear.

A coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 1,300 people and locked down the central Chinese city has left thousands of foreigners trapped as authorities impose an unprecedented quarantine.

We want to go back. We can’t survive any more, said Gaurab Pokhrel, a Nepali doctoral student in Wuhan and one of 200 from his country yet to be evacuated.

He said food was in short supply and foreign students were competing with locals at the few stores that were open.

As of Monday, 27 foreigners in China had been infected with the virus -- 22 of whom were in quarantine, officials said. Two of those have died -- an American and a Japanese man.

While many have managed to escape on government-chartered planes, a dwindling group of the unlucky -- or in some cases hardy -- remain, either adapting to life or still seeking a way out.

They told AFP of their plight via phone, email, text messages and social media.

Ruqia Shaikh, a Pakistani postdoctoral researcher stranded at Wuhan’s Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, said most students at the school were confined to their dormitories, watching TV.

She said the university was providing students with essential commodities, but at double the usual price.

We are fed up of eating the same food –- boiled rice and vegetables –- over and over again. The only physical activity we have is a walk on the terrace, and that exposes us to the risk, Shaikh said.

Last week I went to Walmart. It was the first time I had gone out in weeks. It was scary...

Since I came back I have been counting the days until I was very sure I didn’t have any virus.

- No plans for evacuation -

She added that while many Pakistani students wanted to leave, there were risks in returning to their country.

We are worried about how the authorities are going to treat us when we go back to Pakistan -- some students who went back told us the officials treated them very badly, she said.