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'Heartbroken and bitter': Senegalese urge relatives' return from Wuhan

African states are taking measures to combat the new coronavirus.
African states are taking measures to combat the new coronavirus. © France 24

A group of Senegalese families asked their government to immediately evacuate their relatives from coronavirus-stricken China on Wednesday, after the president said it lacked the means to airlift them to safety.

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Senegal's President Macky Sall said on Monday that the poor West African country could not match "big countries" in organising emergency evacuations from the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Chinese authorities have cordoned off the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 560 people and infected over 28,000 more in China.

Thirteen Senegalese students are stuck in Wuhan, according to their families.

"Our children demand a minimum, their right to be rescued by their motherland," said Yoro Ba, representing a group of families with relatives stranded in Wuhan, at a news conference in Senegal's capital Dakar on Wednesday.

Occasionally breaking into tears, he pointed out that states such as Algeria and Tunisia were organising evacuations for their citizens and that Senegal had the resources to do so too.

The families were "distraught, heartbroken and bitter" at Sall's statement on Monday, Ba said, adding that the students were nonetheless in good health so far.

He claimed, however, that not evacuating them meant "certain death".

On Monday, Sall said Senegal lacked the sophisticated medical infrastructure to evacuate stranded Senegalese, pointing to the charter flights, specialised medical personnel and quarantine facilities that would be required.  

Despite a growing economy, Senegal is a poor country where about 40 percent of the population live on less than $1.90 (€1.70) a day, according to the World Bank.

However, Sall's announcement provoked outrage on Twitter. One prominent Senegalese columnist, for example, asked what the president would do if his own son was stranded in Wuhan.

There has not yet been a confirmed coronavirus case in Africa. But authorities are on high alert as deep trade links to China put many countries on the continent at risk.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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