by Hector RETAMAL / with Dene CHEN in Bangkok
Pregnant, newly wed and now trapped at the Chinese epicentre of a global health crisis, Thai national Aphinya is among thousands of foreigners desperate to escape — and watching helplessly as the US and Japan fly their citizens home.
Hundreds were flown to safety this week to Tokyo, Singapore and California on government-chartered flights, but those from countries with less diplomatic clout fear they are being left behind.
“I feel hurt that they don’t care about us,” Aphinya Thasripech, 32, told AFP.
“Either I could starve or I’ll get infected and die,” said the factory worker, who is two months pregnant.
So far 170 people have been killed by the virus since it emerged from a market in Wuhan, and more than 7,700 people have been sickened.
The illness has also spread around the world, with cases being recorded as far away as the United Arab Emirates, Finland and the United States, but all of the deaths have been in China.
China has imposed transport bans in and around Wuhan — effectively trapping tens of millions of people — including thousands of foreigners — in a bid to contain the virus.
Aphinya arrived in China on two weeks ago to marry her Chinese husband in Xiantao — about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Wuhan.
Now the city is a virtual ghost town, with restaurants and shops shuttered.
Aphinya said she is worried for the health of her unborn baby, and desperate for the Thai government to get her out.
For days, the government in Bangkok has said they are awaiting “permission” from China to evacuate 65 citizens known to be at ground zero.
But the wait is taking its toll.
“Sooner or later, it will get to us,” said Aphinya, adding she had heard that a man had collapsed in a restaurant near her.
Thai medical student Badeephak Kaosala has barricaded himself in his dorm room with a dwindling supply of food and water.
He has watched with disbelief as wealthy nations have mounted mercy flights for their stricken citizens, with no word from home on when — or if — he might get out.
“China has given permission to so many other countries… so we feel really down,” , 23, told AFP.
‘Only fools want to stay’
South Korea, France and Britain have all announced preparations to evacuate their citizens. Japan has already brought out two plane-loads.
But “fear, frustration and panic” is mounting among those still trapped, said Pakistani Ruqia Shaikh, 33, who was visiting friends when the city was locked down.
There are around 500 Pakistani students in Wuhan. Currently four have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, an official in Islamabad has said.
Those with families are eager to leave, said Ruqia, though some students prefer to remain where they are — happier to take their chances against the disease than run the gauntlet of Pakistan’s poor health facilities.
“Our country is not capable of treating the coronavirus,” she told AFP.
But Fadil, an Indonesian doctoral student in Wuhan who goes by one name, said he and his friends are desperate to leave — even if only to another Chinese city.
There are about 100 Indonesians in Wuhan, and another 143 elsewhere in Hubei province.
“The key thing is that we want to get out of here,” he said. “Only fools would want to stay in Wuhan.”
A few Myanmar nationals living in Wuhan have taken to Facebook, issuing public pleas to be brought home.
“Other countries are calling back their citizens… when are we going back?” said Khin Thiri Thant Zin, a hospital intern in Wuhan.
“I have a headache from crying so much — I cannot sleep at night.”
© Agence France-Presse