Thais in Wuhan still unable to return home

Thapanee Eadsrichai, the correspondent of the Reporters, talking to Suriya Intanam, who remains stuck in his room in Wuhan as the coronavirus spread. Source: The Reporters

"Not infected, still starving to death," said a Thai chef in Wuhan who had supplies for only two days and half a bottle of water left. The Minister of Health reached him through a video call and promised to bring him back. The Thai Consulate in Chengdu has managed to deliver supplies to him. He is one of around 101 Thais still stuck in Wuhan as the government slowly tried to bring them home in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak.

Arriving in Wuhan on 7 January, Suriya Intanam does not know exactly where his room is located in the city. When the coronavirus spread, he bought noodles. But as 10 days passed, his food was running out.

Talking to The Reporter via a video call, he said he risked going out to buy more supplies, but all nearby shops are closed and the roads are empty.  He lives 20 km away from the closed airport. But it is very far from the university area where other Thai students live and the shops are open.

He has joined a chat group created by a Thai consulate in China to follow updates. His request to return to Thailand has been approved by the government. But help with supplies had not yet arrived, and all Suriya could do was waiting for death. Fortunately, the news report reached the Thai Consulate-General in Chengdu and Thai Embassy in Beijing, and they had food delivered to his room a couple of hours later.

The Reporter has also linked him to Anutin Charnvirakul, the Minister of Health. Anutin said he is working to bring Suriya back as fast as he can. He said the airport in Wuhan is closed. The Chinese government is queuing foreign governments to get their citizens out. Earlier this week, he said the first Thai commercial airplane will arrive at Wuhan to bring Thais home on 4 February.

Meanwhile, 4 Thais in Chongqing who did not get payment from the Chinese employer amid the coronavirus outbreak has arrived at Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport. With help of Thai Consulate-General in Chengdu, they will return to Thailand by 6.30 pm today (31 Jan).

However, Thais at home are criticizing the government for the delayed response as other countries have taken their citizens home, including Japan, the United States, South Korea, France, and Singapore. According to Chatri Atjananan, Director-General of Department of Consular Affairs, there are 101 Thais in Wuhan, and another 60 in greater Hubei province. 59 of them are students in 11 universities who have just received masks and alchohol gel from the Thai Embassy in Beijing. The numbers are constantly updated as the Thai consulate is trying to reach more.

Another Thai who lived near to where the epidemic started is Yui. Living in Xiantao, 200 km from Wuhan, she is 2 months pregnant. Talking to Channel 3, she said her place is not many kilometres away from a home where an infected person was found. Big department stores are still open, but small shops nearby are closed. Masks are rarer and rarer. Her visa will expire on 31 January and she wants to return to Thailand as soon as possible.

"Thinking positively, all sides are trying to help. But I don't want to wait. Because it’s already getting close. And it is very fast. I feel like it will get to us soon. I don’t want to wait any longer," said Yui.