As confusion prevails over the extent and severity of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, foreign students in the country face a puzzling scenario.
Thousands of foreign students are enrolled in different Iranian universities, mostly in the capital city Tehran, and the city of Qom that is the epicenter of the deadly virus in the country.
Many of the universities have given a go-ahead to foreign students to leave the country.
However, students face a serious predicament -- either to stay or leave. The conflicting reports about the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran and myriad conspiracy theories have rattled them.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, a number of foreign students from different universities in Tehran, Qom and other Iranian cities said an environment of fear and panic has gripped the country, with no clarity over the actual number of people infected by the virus and the level of preparedness to combat it.
On Thursday, Iran put the death toll from the coronavirus to 26, with 245 confirmed cases.
The global death toll is nearly 2,800, and China, where the outbreak originated, is the worst hit, with more than 78,000 cases and over 2,700 fatalities.
There have been conflicting reports about the number of fatalities and confirmed cases, with a parliamentarian from the city of Qom on Monday putting the death toll at 50. The claim was rejected by Iran’s Health Ministry and pledged to be transparent on the issue.
Students in dilemma
Due to an environment of confusion and uncertainty, which has created fear and panic in the minds of ordinary people, foreign students in Iran have become remarkably distressed.
While some have already left the country, some others are planning to leave or have confined themselves to their homes.
Mohammad Awwal, a Nigerian university student in Qom, said he has no option but to stay back and face the situation.
“There is a high alert in the city of Qom, with authorities urging people to stay at home. Every day the toll is mounting and majority of the cases are from Qom,” Awwal told Anadolu Agency.
He said many foreign students, especially those from the neighboring countries, have already left the country, but students from Africa, Europe and some South Asian countries are undecided.
“In an ideal case, we should be looking for a safe place right now, but it is not easy to travel to our home country under these circumstances,” he said, adding: “It’s better to stay here and wait for things to get better.”
Ali Jannat, a student from Indonesia in Qom, told Anadolu Agency that he has been planning to leave but the flights are not available since all airlines have temporarily suspended their operations to Iran.
“It is a scary situation, to be honest, and I am more concerned about the well-being of my two-year-old son,” he said.
“But there seems to be no way to leave the country at the moment, with no flights and a lot of hassles at airports.”
A group of Indian students from Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS) told Anadolu Agency that they had approached the Indian Embassy in Tehran to facilitate their exit from the country.
“Students are panic-stricken and want to go home to their families but flights show no availability at the moment,” said Arsalan, one of the students.
“We are in the middle of our examinations and this health emergency has upset all students,” he added.
Many students from neighboring Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey have been using land routes to return to their respective countries and they are screened before being allowed to cross the border.
“Many of my friends [from Pakistan] have already left and I am also planning to leave in a few days,” Ishtiaq Hussain, a student from Pakistan at Ahlulbayt International University Tehran, told Anadolu Agency.
“It is better to be on a safer side,” Hussain added.
Many of Iran’s neighboring countries, which have confirmed coronavirus cases from people coming from Iran, have closed their borders for travelers.
However, they have been allowing entry to their own nationals after medical tests.
Health authorities in Iraq have confirmed six cases of the virus. Pakistan has confirmed two cases, while Turkey has not confirmed any case.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that the closure of borders was only a temporary measure, based on consultations with neighboring countries to ensure no suspicious cases cross the borders.
On Thursday, Iran’s former ambassador to Vatican Hadi Khosrowshahi died of coronavirus at the age of 81.
Iran’s Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi also tested positive for the virus.
In a video message, Harirchi urged people to “take necessary precautions” and vowed to “defeat” the virus.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.