More foreigners leaving China as virus fears mount

3 min

Beijing (AFP)

Wearing a mask and plastic gloves to protect himself from infection, an Uzbek student is among a rush of foreigners trying to fly out of virus-hit China to wait things out overseas.

With businesses closed for at least another week, classes suspended and airlines cancelling flights, many foreign students and workers see no reason to stay in the country while it struggles with the viral epidemic.

At Beijing's international airport on Sunday, the 19-year-old Uzbek student told AFP he was heading home because his parents were worried about the virus, which has claimed over 300 lives and infected more than 14,000 across China.

"Maybe I will give up studying here," said the Yangzhou University student, who asked to be identified only as Max.

Calling the situation "dreadful", he expressed concern over the rising death toll and the restrictions other countries have imposed on travellers from China.

After the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency, several countries -- including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Israel -- have barred foreign nationals from visiting if they had recently been in China.

The travel bans have left many jittery.

- 'No reason to stay' -

A 46-year-old American said she was worried her flight home would be cancelled at the eleventh hour.

"My only hope is that I can go home. I have been standing here checking the flight schedules for any changes," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

"I can't be sure until the last minute."

Others, such as 22-year-old Jamie Bosch, are leaving because of work.

"We can't do anything, and everything is closed," said the English teacher. "You can't see your friends. There's nothing to do, so I just decided to go home."

Bosch, who is from South Africa, said she was worried if she did contract the virus, she would be isolated, with no family support.

"(My family) said I need to go home," she said, adding that she would return when school re-opens in March.

- Chinese travellers affected -

Icaro Medeiros, 22, a student at Beijing's Central University of Finance and Economics, said his family cancelled their planned February visit to China after Beijing closed off tourist attractions such as the Great Wall and Forbidden City.

"I decided to leave Beijing because we are not sure when the semester will start again," he said.

"All of my friends have returned home, so there wasn't any reason for me to stay in Beijing alone."

Chinese citizens too have seen their plans derailed.

Wang Yulu, 46, was on her way to the airport with her daughter on Saturday when they learned that Australia had barred non-citizens arriving from China.

Her daughter was due to begin a university semester in Australia, but the pair were forced to turn back to Changchun city in northeast China even before they arrived at the airport.

"It can't be helped, we won't be going," said Wang.

They don't want us Chinese citizens there."