The Chinese embassy in Pretoria on Monday said that thousands of South African students studying in the Asian country were safe, despite an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus.

“We assure the South African government and people that China has sufficient capacity and resources to effectively respond to public health emergencies and ensure the safety of foreign nationals, including South African citizens in China, especially in Wuhan and the Hubei province. To date, 19 foreigners in China have contracted the virus, and only one has died,” the diplomatic mission said in a statement. 

Conducting self-quarantine in China was the safest and cheapest choice as well as the best way to protect the foreign citizens’ families and friends in their home countries, according to the embassy. 

“It is our firm belief that China has the ability and resources to take effective measures to contain the outbreak as soon as possible. Local epidemic prevention and control, regulations and measures will be carried out strictly.” 

China’s Ambassador in South Africa Lin Songtian addressing media at the embassy in Pretoria. Photo: Jonisayi Maromo / ANA

The embassy said the Chinese government, led by president Xi Jinping, had dedicated resources, and was making “utmost efforts in giving priority to protecting foreign nationals in China” from the novel coronavirus. 

“All Chinese universities are taking rigorous and effective prevention and control measures to keep the epidemic off campus. We have done and will continue to do our best to provide medical care, daily necessities and logistic support for foreign citizens, especially overseas students in China,” said the embassy. 

The mission, led by Ambassador Lin Songtian, said it was in contact with the education authorities in Wuhan and Hubei province daily, in a bid “to follow closely the situation of South African students”. 

No South African students in China had been reported as infected by the virus, according to the embassy. 

“It is unsafe, costly and risky for South African citizens in China to fly back to South Africa. The number of confirmed cases in Japan has risen rapidly from 11 to 25 since evacuation, and a large number of suspected cases were found on a French evacuation plane. 

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“Lessons should be drawn from these mistakes. Long-distance flying is very risky. As long as one person on board is infected, the rest are at risk. Therefore, people coming back to South Africa from China must be quarantined for 14 days to ensure that they do not have symptoms of infection,” the embassy said.

More than 900 people have now died in mainland China from the deadly virus, believed to have emerged in the Chinese central city of Wuhan. The majority of the fatalities were recorded in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province. 

China’s National Health Commission reported there were 97 new fatalities from the virus on February 9, making Sunday the deadliest day so far.

As of Sunday night, the Chinese authorities said a total of 40,171 infections had been confirmed across China.