Residents of Tibet now traveling in mainland China are returning home to escape the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, which has killed at least 17 people with more than 540 reported infected and is spreading more widely every day, a Tibetan visiting Shanghai told RFA this week.
Those going back to Tibet include both ethnic Tibetans and Han Chinese with homes in the Himalayan region, RFA's source said on Jan. 21, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I hear that many Chinese in mainland China are returning to Tibet, especially those who have houses there,” she said. “And many others who don’t have houses in Tibet are also thinking of going there to escape the outbreak of the disease.”
As of now, there are no reports of this disease in Tibet,” she said.
“Right now we are in Shanghai on vacation and were planning to go to other places including Wuhan, but now we have had to cut short our travel plans,” RFA’s source said, adding, “It is best to return to Tibet, as this is the safest place.”
Health officials have begun to screen travelers from other Chinese cities and are checking for symptoms of disease at all ports of entry, RFA’s source said.
“Almost everyone is putting on face masks, wearing gloves, and washing their hands thoroughly to stop from getting this infection, as it is said that once it is contracted, this disease is incurable.”
Also speaking to RFA, Tseten Dorje—personal physician to exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama—agreed that it appears so far there appears to be no effective treatment for the disease, which displays symptoms like high fever similar to those seen in China’s SARS outbreak that killed hundreds of people almost 20 years ago.
“This is an airborne disease and is spread through coughing, so it is very important to put on face masks and stay away from those who are infected,” Dorje said. “Also, affected countries should do everything they can to prevent the spread of the disease to other people.”
Because Tibet is located at a high altitude, it is unlikely that the virus can easily spread there, a Tibetan now living in the U.S. told RFA on Tuesday.
“There were no cases of SARS in Tibet, and even those Tibetans who were studying in mainland China were spared from the disease after they took Tibetan medicine and exercised preventive care,” she said.
“I haven’t heard of many Chinese going to Tibet now to get away from the disease, but this is possible, as the high altitude in Tibet is a good defense against illness,” she added.
Wuhan city on Wednesday closed all transport links including train, bus, and ferry service into and out of the city, from which the coronavirus has now spread to other regions of China and to Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and the U.S.
Reported by Yangdon Demo for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.