By Juarawee Kittisilpa and Panu Wongcha-um
BANGKOK (Reuters) – When Thai medical student Badeephak Kaosala dares to leave his rented apartment in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, he puts on a mask, gloves, a hat and layers of clothing to try to avoid infection with the coronavirus that has the city on lockdown.
“Anywhere you go, you are always self-conscious of touching someone or you always have to keep in mind that you have to keep a distance from the person you’re walking next to – when he sneezes, when he coughs, even when he breathes,” said the 23-year-old student at Wuhan’s Tongji Medical College.
Lately, he has had trouble finding basic supplies such as milk and eggs in the city of 11 million since it became the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 81 and infected 2,740 people in China.
“There’s a shortage. Everyone wants to stock up, but it is already too late,” Badeephak told Reuters via Skype.
“There are no vehicles on the road except private vehicles, which I only see going to pharmacies and hospitals,” he added.
Badeephak wants to go home to Thailand, he has little choice but to wait.
The Thai government has put a military plane on standby for a possible evacuation of its citizens, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Monday they do not yet have Beijing’s permission for the airlift.
Most commercial flights out of Wuhan were halted last week to try to contain the virus. “At the moment the Chinese authorities have said the situation is still under control, so we have prepared a plan. … Once it’s time we will seek permission to fly in,” Prayuth said.
Thailand’s Foreign Ministry says there are 64 Thais in Wuhan. Badeephak said the Thai Embassy told him there were 118 Thais in all of Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.
The Thai government has faced criticism both at home and abroad over its handling of the illness, with many taking to social media to accuse the government of not doing enough.
Thailand has reported eight cases of coronavirus, including seven Chinese tourists from Wuhan and a Thai woman who visited there.
Prayuth said on Monday most Thais in Wuhan wanted to stay.
But Badeephak said: “I am pretty sure that more than 70-80% (of Thais)… want to go back home because everyone of us here knows that staying here is not safe.”
“How I am doing right now is not good,” he said. “The town has become a ghost town.”
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones)