Nearly 200 students, aged between 12 and 17, are due to leave London on Thursday night on board a special flight arranged by the Chinese government.
About 200,000 Chinese students have returned home in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, but there are still some 1.4 million overseas, including 220,000 in Britain. Most have chosen to stay put, but Chinese foreign vice-minister Ma Zhaoxu said more flights could be arranged if necessary.
Ma said the first government-arranged plane had left Shanghai on Thursday morning and would bring about 180 young people to Jinan, in the eastern province of Shandong.
“For countries with severe epidemics, the Communist Party and government will take necessary measures to help those with difficulty and need to return to China urgently. They will be assisted to return to China in a gradual and orderly manner,” Ma said on Thursday.
There are an estimated 410,000 Chinese overseas students in the United States and another 230,000 in Canada, according to Ma.
“Most of the overseas students, adhering to the principle of no travel until necessary as recommended by the World Health Organisation and the national disease control authority, have chosen to stay, which helps to avoid infection during travel, being stranded at the stopover country because of border control measures, and a series of impacts on their subsequent studies and visas,” he said.
Chinese embassies are distributing 500,000 “health kits” which include face masks, sanitisers and health guidelines, to students remaining overseas. Ma said embassies were also arranging online seminars, virtual treatment platforms and self-help groups with local overseas Chinese associations to help them.
The students were also advised to call on consular help with problems, including strandings at international airports. Ma said Chinese embassies had recently arranged help for 540 students stranded at airports in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Cambodia as they tried to return home.
Last month China arranged nine charter flights to bring back 1,457 Chinese citizens, including overseas students, from Iran, Italy and other countries.
Beijing has sharply cut the number of flights in and out of the country over concerns that travellers could trigger another wave of infections, just as its coronavirus outbreak appears to be under control after two months of hard work.
Chinese and foreign airlines have been ordered to maintain one route to any destination and limit the number of flights to one per week – a weekly maximum of 134 flights.
Education vice-minister Tian Xuejun said 36 overseas students had so far been diagnosed with Covid-19 – the illness caused by the new coronavirus – and they were being assisted by Chinese embassies.
“These 36 students have received good medical care. Eleven of them have been cured and discharged,” Tian said.
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