What is meant to be the educational opportunity of a lifetime now bodes serious health implications not just for University of the West Indies students who are marooned in their dormitories located in the Suzhou province but also for their respective countries since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
The first known outbreak was documented in Wuhan, China in mid-December 2019. Since then, the contagious group of viruses which are said “causes respiratory infection and has shown evidence of human-to-human transmission,” has claimed the lives of an increasing number of people across mainland China.
As part of efforts to combat the widespread infections the Chinese government took advantage of the Lunar New Year to help maintain their restriction on travel.
Even without government enforced curfews, one of the Vincentian students (both of whom are) in contact with ANN said “we (students from UWI Mona and UWI Cave Hill) are allowed to leave our dorms but I am sceptical of doing so because I will be exposed to the air elements since the virus is airborne; but I have to eventually because my food resources are depleting.”
The other female Vincentian student also said “we on the dorms are afraid to go out… just the night before [Monday night] they stopped a vehicle from Wuhan (the epicentre of the outbreak) just outside our school with passengers having fevers. So we are not too keen to go outside. The dorm is safe.”
All told there are approximately 30 students currently pursing studies in Software Engineering at the Suzhou based campus. These students are from Jamaica, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Vincentians are past St. Vincent Girls’ High School students. “I started out at UWI back in 2016 studying IT and the opportunity was presented to study Software Engineering – 2 years at UWI and 2 years in China. China is a leading country in technology so I took this opportunity for this purpose. Also, a scholarship was offered to do so,” one of the young ladies confided as to the circumstances leading up to her China based studies.
“This couldn’t have happened at a worse time though, with the Chinese New Year. Most online deliveries have halted until February 2nd – 4th, many stores are closed or have stock shortage and face masks and cleaning essentials are sold out,” the more senior of the two students also told ANN.
The other student spoke about the school administration’s approach to managing the situation. “We were told that further discussion into the matter will be done among the registrar of UWI, a co-ordinator at UWI Cave Hill, [the] principal of the Global Institute of Software Technology and the Dean of UWI Mona Science and Technology to decide whether classes should still commence in March, internship (for the fourth-year students) should resume, methods of getting food resources among other necessities to us and an evacuation plan if the virus outbreak heightens in Suzhou.”
The “administrators,” ANN understands, are aware of the students’ desire to return to their respective home countries. The students are however discouraged because to do so may “expose [them] to more risks of catching the virus.” They were however advised to contact the administrators if they experience any of the novel coronavirus symptoms.
According to webmd.com “often a coronavirus causes upper respiratory infection symptoms like a stuffy nose, cough and sore throat… The coronavirus can also cause middle ear infections in children… most coronaviruses spread the same way other cold-causing viruses do: through an infected person’s hands or face or by touching things such as doorknobs that infected people have touched…. In most cases you won’t know whether you have a coronavirus or a different cold-causing virus.”
As could be imagined the students’ parents are anxious as to their children’s welfare and enquired of the local Foreign Affairs Ministry as to possible plans to address the situation. Ministry officials, we were told, encouraged the parents to have their wards “contact the embassy in Taiwan since we do not have an embassy here in China.”
ANN: How can we help from home?
Student: Not really sure how help can be offered because of the travel/delivery restrictions. Our main mindset was to get home as soon as possible but we wouldn’t want to cause an outbreak back home. It’s risky.”
She believes though “it’ll possibly be easier for [the Taiwanese embassy] to either send supplies to us or maybe extract us to Taiwan if it were to get worse/more threatening.”
Up to publishing time 106 people have died in China from the coronaviruses and more than 4500 cases have been confirmed with nearly 1000 persons said to be in critical conditions, international media reported.
According to theguardian.com “incubation is generally 3-7 days maximum 14 days, the [Chinese Health] Commission says…Several countries are sending charter flights to evacuate their citizens.”