J’cans in China start to panic as coronavirus spreads

SOME Jamaicans at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China are now starting to panic as the death toll rises, food shortages worsen and they can see no end in sight to their nightmare.

“People are panicking. Every day we waking up to more bad news; one day it was 15 dead, then it was 24 dead, now it’s 81 dead.

More cities getting shut down, they are not encouraging evacuation because we have not yet been in 14 days’ quarantine,” said Norville Belvett from his dorm room in Wuhan.

He was far less optimistic than when the Jamaica Observer first spoke with him last Friday.

“Every day [the challenge is] double… what it was yesterday.

There is no foreseeable end to say that, okay, we have one month of this [or] we have two weeks of this. It’s just ongoing.

When you get the messages [on social media app WeChat, [which is widely used for communication in China] it’s not like it’s improving; it’s worsening; it keeps escalating daily,” said Belvett.

When the Observer spoke with him yesterday afternoon, he was awaiting an update from Jamaica’s embassy in Beijing.

Belvett said he had heard of one Jamaican teacher in Wuhan who has had challenges getting baby food for her child.

He estimates that if he rations his food carefully he can last another two and a half weeks, at most, without going to one of the canteens available across his school’s five campuses.

He has not been to any school canteen since the city of about 11 million was locked down on January 22, afraid to consume meals prepared by someone else who may be infected with the virus.

He ventured outside for grocery shopping yesterday, finding deserted streets and almost empty supermarkets as people obeyed instructions to remain inside.

“Only thing I was able to get was corn, spaghetti, and chicken,” he said.

Wuhan is one of several cities in central China under full or partial lockdown.

Air, land, and sea travel have all be restricted. Some travellers who left the city to celebrate Chinese New Year now find themselves scrambling to absorb the costs associated with the unexpected need to extend their vacation.

From what he has seen in the WeChat group for Jamaicans in China, Belvett said, some who went travelling are running out of money to pay for hotels.
Belvett, meanwhile, added that some in central China are facing their own challenges with accommodations. “[Some] schools [outside of Wuhan] are emptying their dorms because they want the space and they want safety,” he said.

The third-year civil engineering master’s student does not anticipate that he will have to leave his dorm at Wuhan University of Technology as the city remains on lockdown.