Bangladeshi students stuck in coronavirus-stricken China cannot be brought back home immediately as the Chinese authorities will not allow people to leave the country in the next 14 days as a precaution on containing the spread of the virus, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has said.
"Following the instructions of the prime minister to bring Bangladeshi citizens, who are willing to return to the country, the government has made all arrangements, including arranging a C-130 flight to airlift them," the minister told The Business Standard yesterday.
He said China has refused to allow anyone, including students from countries like the US, India, and Sri Lanka, to leave their residences for the next 14 days.
Around 500 Bangladeshi students are reportedly stuck in the coronavirus-hit Chinese province of Hubei.
The Bangladesh embassy in Beijing has opened a 24/7 hotline number +(86)-17801116005 for Bangladeshis.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshis who are living in coronavirus-stricken Chinese cities amid a growing concern over the rapid spread of the deadly disease have thanked the prime minister for her initiative to bring them back home.
Imshiat Sharif, a PhD student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan city, expressed his gratitude to the prime minister through a Facebook post.
Mentioning that coronavirus has spread to various countries other than China and that already 80 people have died of the disease on in China, he wrote, "Against such a backdrop, around 400 Bangladeshi students stuck in Hubei are becoming increasingly worried. Many of them are suffering from scarcity of food as markets and shops have been kept shut for a week."
Earlier on Monday, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam made a public post through his Facebook page mentioning that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had ordered the fast repatriation of the Bangladeshi students stuck in coronavirus-struck China immediately.
He also wrote, "We have already started discussions with the Chinese government in this regard."
It will be decided through discussions with local administration in China - and with their consent - on how this will be done, he said.
The state minister also said, "Our main target is to ensure the security of the citizens of our country."
The PM's order came following appeals from Bangladeshi students in China who said they were stuck there.
The virus, believed to have originated late last year in a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife, has spread to Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France, Canada and India.
The disease has caused at least 80 deaths while China confirmed 2,744 cases of those affected by it by midnight Sunday. At least 44 cases have been confirmed outside China but no deaths have thus far been reported outside China.
Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, which is at the centre of the outbreak, is in lockdown, with China imposing travel bans on a number of other cities.
On January 25, some Bangladeshi students currently staying in Wuhan province in China made a humanitarian appeal to the Bangladesh authorities to save them from the crisis created following the outbreak of coronavirus.
Through social media, the students said they were not only at risk of being infected with the virus, but were also facing a scarcity of food as the city of 11 million people has been in lockdown since January 23.
On behalf of some students, Sajib Hossain, an assistant teacher at Yangtze University in Wuhan province, posted a letter on Facebook addressing the Foreign Ministry in which he sought assistance from the Bangladesh authorities.
Sajib said, "Wuhan city has remained shut for the last three days. No car is moving in the town. No food and masks are arriving."
Isolation units in public hospitals to tackle coronavirus
The government has ordered public hospitals across the country to open isolation units as a precaution to ensure treatment of Novel Coronavirus patients.
The specialised units will be opened at sadar hospitals and medical college hospitals in all 64 districts of the country.
Professor Dr Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), on Monday issued the order to all divisional directors and civil surgeons of the health department through videoconferencing.
He discussed with them the need for action to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Bangladesh.
Dr Kalam also directed them to closely observe inbound passengers from other countries at all land and marine ports.
Dr Ayesha Akter, director of the DGHS Health Emergency Operation Centre and Control Room, said nobody had been diagnosed with coronavirus in the country so far.
"But as a precautionary move, government hospitals have been asked to open isolation units under the health ministry's directive," she added.
She said each public hospital will have to open an isolation unit with several specialised facilities, including five dedicated beds and non-stop oxygen service. "If any patient is diagnosed with coronavirus, he or she will be treated in this unit."
A meeting last Sunday reached the decision to open isolation units in government hospitals. It was presided over by the health minister, where a decision was also made to monitor 24 land and marine ports across the country.
Copies of the letter containing the meeting's decisions were sent to all divisional directors and civil surgeons.