As Coronavirus Spreads to 19 Countries, Nigerians Express Fears over Expected Return of Chinese from Lunar Festival

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*132 deaths recorded, 6,200 infected so far

*Disease spreads to Middlee East, as Cote d’ voire tests first suspected case in Africa

*US, Japan, other countries evacuate citizens from China

*BA suspends flight to mainland China

By Martins Ifijeh

As Novel Coronavirus outbreak continues to spread to, at least, 19 countries, killing 132 people and infecting over 6,200 persons, Nigerians have taken to social media to call on the federal government to heighten security at airports, especially as it is rumoured that over 300 hundred Chinese are bound to arrive the country from China this week.

The United Arab Emirates Wednesday recorded its first confirmed case of the virus in four Chinese family members who arrived the country from Wuhan city in China, which is the epicenter of the outbreak. Cote de’ voire has also tested its first suspected case, although authorities are yet to confirm whether the person has the virus or not.

The United States, United Kingdom and Japan have started evacuating their citizens out of Wuhan city, while the British Airways has become the first international air career to suspend all direct flights to and from mainland China due to the increased spread of the disease.

Countries already affected by the spread, as at Wednesday, are United States, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, France, United Arabs Emirates, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Canada, Cambodia, Germany, Hong Kong, South Korea, Macao, Vietnam, and of course China.

Nigerians who took to their Twitter to warn the Nigerian government over the rumoured return of Chinese residents in Nigeria into the country from holiday called for heightened surveillance and checks at the airport to prevent them from importing the virus into the country.

Their call, tagged: ‘Hundreds of Chinese” was Wednesday afternoon, number one on the trending list on Twitter, with over 42,000 mentions.

Abdulwahab Suleiman, using the handle, @abdulwa90705276 on Twitter said: “Hundreds of Chinese left Nigeria to celebrate their annual festival/Lunar New Year to return shortly. Over 300,000 Chinese are already infected. The federal government should device preventive actions before we have an epidemic in Nigeria. Coronavirus in Nigeria will be giant catastrophe.”

Michael Leke Gideon, with the handle, @stmyk, said: “There’s a new virus that’s currently plaguing China. Hundreds of Chinese come into Nigeria. I hope the relevant authorities are aware and are taking necessary actions so it won’t spread to our country.”

With the demand on social media for improved capacity by the government, Nigerians believed if travellers from China were given heightened precautionary health checks before being allowed into the country, it will help in reducing the risk of Coronavirus finding its way into Nigeria.

Meanwhile, residents of the Middle East woke up Wednesday morning to the news of the virus in the United Arab Emirates, with four residents already confirmed to be infected by the virus.

The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency made the announcements, citing the Health and Prevention Ministry, but offered no details on where they were receiving treatment, nor when they arrived.

The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways and is a hub for global air travel. Several hundreds of Nigerians are known to travel to and from Dubai everyday, using both Emirates and Etihad Airways.

While British Airways has suspended flights to mainland China forthwith, Emirates, which is a common career for Nigerian travellers, it said it will continue flights to Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong.

The UK Foreign Office said it had advised the airline to suspend flights to mainland China except for essential travels, adding that the UK government was also arranging the evacuation of Britons from Wuhan city and the surrounding Hubei province.

United Airlines, Air Canada, and Cathay Pacific Airways have cancelled some flights to China.

Meanwhile, the United States, Wednesday evacuated 200 Americans from Wuhan city, with hopes to ferry back remaining citizens in China who hopes to return to the US.

The 201 passengers, including diplomats and businesspeople, underwent medical screening at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the local authorities said.

The Chief Medical Officer, Alaska, Anne Zink, said: “The whole plane erupted in cheers when the crew said, ‘Welcome home to the United States,” 

Zink said that all the passengers were screened twice during the layover and approved by medical staff members from the Centers for Disease Control before reboarding the plane to Southern California.

Japan has also evacuated 206 of its citizens from China, with 12 hospitalised for symptoms relating to fever.