Desire to leave for home growing among overseas Chinese as COVID-19 spreads

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/28 13:09:43

COVID-19 outbreak has been spreading in other countries outside China

Overseas Chinese in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Italy express concern about measures to prevent the epidemic, with some rushing back to China

People in these countries show support to each other

A women wears a surgical mask as she walks along Chinatown's Grant Avenue on Wednesday in San Francisco, California. Photo: AFP

Some Chinese living in foreign countries bear concerns of what they believe underestimation and insufficient attention to the novel coronavirus from the authorities and society of where they stay.

Many of them concern that local governments did not take sufficient counter measures and some are expressing stronger desire to return home.

A large number of people traveling back to China for Spring Festival have extended their holidays here, due to a combination of reasons of canceled flights and their personal choice to stay.

China reported 573 new cases on Sunday, a steady decrease compared with thousands of new cases a day a few weeks ago, while confirmed COVID-19 cases in a few foreign countries has been increasing.

Around 950 infections have been confirmed in Japan. In South Korea, some 3,736 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed as of Sunday , with 586 new cases.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China is willing to defeat the outbreak with Japan and South Korea together, sharing information and experience and providing support and assistance according to their needs.

On Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in Seoul sent 25,000 surgical masks to Daegu. China had already delivered a batch of nucleic acid test kits to Japan, and is preparing to further donate 5,000 protective outfits and 100,000 masks. 

Meanwhile, the coronavirus epidemic in Iran has intensified in recent weeks. The Iranian embassy in China said on its Weibo account on Thursday that anti-epidemic materials donated by China to Iran have arrived in Tehran, including nucleic acid testing kits, oxygen generators, disinfectants and electronic thermometers. 

It also revealed that the Chinese embassy in Iran and Chinese companies in Iran have donated 250,000 masks and 5,000 nucleic acid testing kits.

A team of five medical experts from China arrived in Tehran, the capital of Iran, with some medical supplies on Sunday.

Safer at home

Daegu, the epicenter of the outbreak in South Korea, is 150 miles and roughly a two-hour train ride from Seoul. 

The city came under the spotlight after a woman from the controversial Shincheonji Church of Jesus became what many people called a "super spreader," infecting dozens of people at her church. 

"Population density of Seoul is one of the highest in the world. And I'm worried if people travel from Daegu, the epicenter in South Korea, to Seoul. So I choose to stay in China," Xie Guanlin, a 24-year-old Chinese graduate student in Seoul, told the Global Times.

Xie canceled her return trip to Seoul on February 16 after the winter break. She and her Chinese classmates are considering temporarily postponing their academic studies to avoid the outbreak in South Korea. 

Of the infected patients in Daegu, accounting for half of South Korea's total, only 447 have received medical attention in hospitals, while 570 are under self-quarantine at home, South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh reported on Thursday.

An Asian man is the only one wearing a mask in the crowd before the soccer match between Manchester United and Brugge at Old Trafford in Manchester, the UK on Thursday. Photo: IC

The mayor of Daegu said the city has less than 800 hospital beds for the infected and the local government is working with neighboring towns and cities to help transfer infected patients, as reported.

South Korea's private hospitals have the most advanced medical resources, making it difficult for the government to mobilize the doctors who work there, Xie said.

South Korea imports most of its food and could face food shortages or price spikes during an outbreak, Xie also said.

However, Xie also appreciates that South Korea provides all foreigners free treatment toward COVID-19 and some universities also gave life supplies to support students during quarantine time.

Xiao Juan, an overseas Chinese who has been living in Daegu for 10 years, helped local government to arrange Chinese students to move into quarantined dormitories, as Chinanews reported Thursday.

Overseas Chinese are positively donating medical supplies to hospitals in Daegu and determined to fight against COVID-19 with South Korea together, as reported.

Although government leaders in South Korea and Japan have acknowledged the severity of COVID-19, social forces may not cooperate with the government's anti-epidemic measures due to their political systems, said Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University.

As Li explained, there are checks and balances between different institutions within the government. The plan envisioned by policy makers is subject to rebuttal by the legislature and intense debate always happens within the government.

Local governments have greater power and national epidemic prevention policies may not be implemented if they harm local interests. As a result, some foreign countries are either unwilling or unable to control the epidemic so efficiently, Li said.

Hurry back

Gao Nanbei (pseudonym), a 28-year-old Chinese salesperson in Tokyo, Japan, has the same concerns.

Japan has 947 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Sunday. On February 6, Japanese experts said the new coronavirus was similar to a flu virus and that it would not wreak havoc in Japan. 

The management of the Diamond Princess cruise passengers and the neglect of those suffering from mild symptoms caused Gao to worry the outbreak could grow in Japan.

Gao quit his job in Tokyo and moved to Okinawa, where only three confirmed cases have been reported. 

Gao is from Central China's Hubei Province, the COVID-19 epicenter, which has made returning home difficult. Gao's hometown has been under lockdown but he plans to return once that changes.  

Although stuck in Okinawa, Gao said he tells his Japanese friends how contagious the virus is and to persuade them to avoid going out.

Li Xinzhu returned to China on Tuesday, two weeks before her original plan due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. 

By Sunday, the confirmed cases in Italy has surpassed 1,000.

However, the Italian government has been trying to reduce the panic over the virus. Italian Prime Minister Conte told the national broadcaster Rai to "tone down." "It's time to stop the panic," he said, the BBC reported Thursday. 

Li said that she is confident about Italy's level of medical expertise and scientific research. However, she believed the European country does not have a sufficient emergency reserve supplies, and local residents have not paid enough attention to the COVID-19 epidemic.

"In Italy, many Italians do not wear masks," she said in concern.

As a graduate music student in Bologna, in northern Italy, Li had planned to obtain her certifications and stay in the country through mid-March.

Since last week in northern Italy, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surged.

"After the news of Italy's outbreak, the flight tickets to China went up 500 yuan overnight," Li told the Global Times and added, "in the following days, the tickets were almost sold out."

Italy issued a China travel ban on January 30, after an elderly couple who had returned from Wuhan were confirmed to have the virus. Direct flights between China and Italy were immediately canceled.

Li returned home because she was worried about the availability of supplies in Italy. "Most Chinese students there could not buy masks anywhere," she said. She gave her remaining face masks to one of her teachers. 

Now that she is home in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, Li said she feels safe.

"China has medical supplies and most experience in treating the coronavirus. I have confidence in China," she said. 

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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