Bangladeshi students stranded in China by the coronavirus
by Sumon Corraya

Locked down in their universities, students have had problems finding basic necessities. The Bangladeshi government is preventing them from returning from China, whilst the country's economy is experiencing the first negative repercussions of the epidemic.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – “We cannot leave the university. We spend the days praying and watching TV,” said Biplob Nathan, a 33-year-old Catholic student from Bangladesh attending a university in the Chinese province of Zhejiang.

He arrived in China in September 2019 to do a master's degree in Education. Now he is confronted with restrictions imposed by Chinese authorities to stop the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

“We are concerned about the growing number of victims of the epidemic,” he explained. “The university has 12,000 students and we try to protect ourselves with masks.”

“The city is deserted, no one goes out into the streets, and prices for basic necessities have risen,” he told AsiaNews.

Dipan Roy, a Hindu student also from Bangladesh, attends Three Gorges University in Yichang (Hubei), close to the epicentre of the outbreak. He says that 172 fellow Bangladeshi are studying at this institution.

“We have problems finding food,” he said. “Now there is a food crisis in the city; neither buses nor trains are operating. We don't know how long we can resist under such conditions.”

About a thousand Bangladeshi nationals are in China to study, and only a few have managed to go home.

"I won't go back to Bangladesh, I don't want to risk spreading the virus," said Biplob, who comes from the Diocese of Khulna.

Last week Bangladesh Health Minister Zahid Malik called on his compatriots living in China not to come home.

According to Health Ministry data, 312 have returned from China so far, and have been placed in quarantine in the Ashkona Hajj camp.

For now, no case of infection has been recorded in Bangladesh, not even among Chinese nationals. However, a Bangladeshi worker was found positive in Singapore.

The epidemic is starting to have negative effects on the country’s economy, which plays an important role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to build a trading network between Asia, Africa and Europe.

The construction sector has been particularly hit, but so has electronics. The latter is very important for Bangladesh since it buys many computers from China, as Nazrul Islam, an importer, told AsiaNews.