204 more waiting to return - Actg Ambassador in Beijing | Sunday Observer
Bringing back Sri Lankan’s from China

204 more waiting to return - Actg Ambassador in Beijing

2 February, 2020

Sri Lanka’s Acting Ambassador in Beijing K.K.Yoganaadan, who co-ordinates efforts to return Sri Lankans in Wuhan and other parts of China said they still have 204 persons waiting to come home.

The 33 students who were trapped in Wuhan since the city was locked down were brought to Sri Lanka in the early hours of yesterday in a well coordinated mission by the Foreign Relations Ministry and their counterparts in China.

The Sri Lanka mission in Beijing, the Consulates General in Shanghai and Guangzhou and the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka together with the Sri Lankan Airlines were part of the mission.

“Up to now we have no reports that any Sri Lankan has been affected including the students in Wuhan, we are in touch with them constantly,” the Acting Ambassador told the Sunday Observer on Tuesday when first we contacted him to know what was going on in that part of the world while countries anxiously watched a deadly virus which reportedly originated from Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei province, began spreading worldwide.

As of yesterday, no Sri Lankan in China was reported to have contracted the virus.

“We have already established contact with Local Government authorities and officials there, we are open 24 hours and staying in touch with the Sri Lankan students and giving them all the support,” Acting Ambassador Yoganaadan said. Some 204 Lankans are in touch with the mission and are seeking to return.

Wuhan city was locked down and there was no approval given to exit or enter the city but we are continuously trying to get these children out of Wuhan. Many students who were attending university in Wuhan had returned home when the news broke of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The remaining numbering 33 with their family members were completing assignments and attending practical classes. When the outbreak of the deadly disease came out, they desperately contacted the Sri Lankan missions for help to return home.

But the city of 11 million people was soon locked down.

“When we heard that the city is to be locked down to stop the highly contagious new strain of Coronavirus from being spread to other parts, we notified the students and we instructed them to stockpile food and water for several days.”

But after a few days some students had issues with food and water. “We asked for help from the local authorities and informed the students where supermarkets which had food stocks remaining and tipped them off.”

Many students were single and were staying in University hostels, they had meals from the canteen. But the few who were living with families outside the university had issues.

The students were advised not to panic and look after themselves until help arrives to evacuate them. Some food supplies available with a few student leaders, were also distributed among the Sri Lankan students who were terrified to go out.

“Wuhan is a city of 11 million people and many foreigners were staying there. The local authorities advised us to inform students how to stay safe but they had to go out and buy supplies,”

Acting Ambassador Yoganaadan said. He said the phones and the internet remained active the whole time and they made contact with the students every day using a local social media platform called WeChat.

“Initially we wanted to transport the students to an airport in another city but such arrangements made things more complicated. We had to keep them under quarantine for 14 more days there, hence we decided to fly them out from Wuhan itself.”

By last Sunday the Sri Lankan Government through the Embassy in Beijing officially sought permission from their Chinese counterpart to land a Sri Lakan Airliner in Wuhan, a special aircraft to bring them back to Sri Lanka. This was made soon after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa directed the Foreign Relations Ministry on January 25 night to evacuate the students at the Coronavirus epicentre as soon as possible. “We knew our request will be considered as we maintain good relations with China and we went ahead with arrangements to ship them home,” the Ambassador said. Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to make a request to evacuate the students.

The clearance to land the charter flight came on Friday and a special aircraft UL 1423 from Sri Lankan took off from Katunayake International Airport at 3.45pm and landed at the Wuhan airport around 9.30pm Sri Lanka time.

Before they were boarded to the flight, the 33 Sri Lankans were checked for fever and any other symptoms for the Coronavirus infection. “We were worried that even a common cold, could have put off their return, but luckily none of them showed any flue like symptoms at the airport.”

The flight took off from Wuhan with the students and their families at 4.05am Saturday and landed at Mattala Airport at 7.50am. From there they were whisked away to a special quarantine facility in Diyathalawa along with the flight crew.

The Embassy had also intervened to facilitate return flights for the other visitors to China who’d gone on purposes like business and tourism at half rate.

Sri Lankan Airlines, two Chinese airlines - Air China and China Eastern Airlines along with another carrier had agreed to offer 50 % discounts to Sri Lankans leaving China due to the outbreak.

A release from the Foreign Relations Ministry yesterday stated, “The Government of Sri Lanka is thankful to the Chinese Government for expediting the process of clearance for the Sri Lankan aircraft to land in Wuhan, to fly the returning students and their family members.”

Over the past five days the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Beijing and the Consulates General in Shanghai and Guangzhou have coordinated the return to Sri Lanka of 627 students, in addition to the 33 students from Wuhan which brings the total number who have returned to 660.