Chinese ambassador applauds decision not to evacuate SA citizens

14 February 2020 - 13:51 By TANYA FARBER
A couple wearing masks to protect them from coronavirus embrace in Hong Kong on Valentine's Day, February 14 2020.
A couple wearing masks to protect them from coronavirus embrace in Hong Kong on Valentine's Day, February 14 2020.
Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

The Chinese embassy in SA has defended the country’s decision not to evacuate its citizens in China during the ever-growing Covid-19 emergency.

Ambassador Lin Songtian, speaking at the embassy in Bishopscourt, Cape Town, said it was safer to keep people where they are.

“It is costly and risky for any foreign national to fly back to their mother country,” said Lin.

“A long-distance flight is a problem, as anyone on board can get the disease. They are not bringing loyalty but the virus itself back to the country.”

There was a “very strict screening programme” for those leaving China, but it did not make it impossible for infected people to leave and then spread the disease in their own country.

“We have to take very strict measures,” said Lin. “We are saying, ‘stay where you are safe - it is good for everybody’.

“China is the country that has the capacity and resources to bring this disease under control as soon as possible. This is wartime. We are at war with the virus.”

Many other countries, including the US, Australia, Japan, Uzbekistan, Canada, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Italy, have evacuated their citizens, prompting South Africans in China to ask why they were being abandoned.

Lin said the South African government deserved a “big round of applause” for being ready to deal with the virus even before any case had arrived, and that the National Institute for Communicable Diseases was working “very professionally”.

He said the strategy so far, including not evacuating South Africans, had seen “positive outcomes” such as the fact that the disease had not yet reached the country.

Lin said any panic was “man-made” and people with “malicious intent would overhype the virus”, forgetting that only 447 cases have been detected beyond China’s borders.


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