Samoa's Embassy in China cracks down on students spreading "misinformation"

Samoan students in China have reportedly been warned to "watch out" as they are prohibited from speaking to the media and posting on social media regarding the novel coronavirus crisis.

In a message from Ambassador Tapusalaia Terry Toomata to students after the Samoa Observer released its first article about the concerns of Samoan students in China, he threatened the student who "talked and lied" to this newspaper to "watch out".

Posts on social media are also being monitored by Samoa's Embassy in China.

"You can talk to your parents and friends about the Whan Coronavirus but talking to the media is a different option," he says.

"There is the embassy and the Foreign Ministry to deal with the local media. Chill and don't just talk, getting things wrong and using up air."

Students spread across China have been speaking to the Samoa Observer anonymously fearing the repercussions that may follow. They say they are panicking as confirmed cases and deaths rise each day.

As of January 30, the new coronavirus called the 2019-nCoV had officially spread all across China.  The death toll has risen to 427 as of Tuesday, with one from the Philippines and one from Hong Kong.

The Chinese officials reported a total of 20,438 confirmed cases of infection, which is an increase of 3,235 from Monday.

"If I see you posting comments like that on social media then watch out," Tapusalaia says in a group chat with the Samoan students.

"Go read a book and chill. There is too much overreaction from the people in Samoa over such nonsense like these. Stay in your dorm and use the holiday to study. You are much better off than the people in Wuhan."

Contacted by the Samoa Observer for a comment, Tapusalaia pointed out that the students are under Government scholarships.

He also confirmed that they have been told to refrain from sending or posting on social media to avoid "misinformation hysteria and panic."

"Students as they are under Government awards have every right to communicate with parents n families on their situation here. All the students are in direct communication with their families," Tapusalaia said.

"We wouldn’t bother to constrain them if they were here as private students. A few students complaining on social media are the ones who are far from Wuhan the epicentre"

One of the posts the Ambassador is referring to includes one from a student in Beijing pleading to the Samoa Airways to evacuate them from China.

"Hi Samoa Airways, can you love the future of Samoa who are watching out and chilling around in Beijing please," Tolai Ailepata posted on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, three of six students that remained in Wuhan were evacuated through an Air New Zealand flight NZ 6001. The other three remain in the city of Wuhan by choice.

In one of the screenshots in the possession of the Samoa Observer, Tapusalaia tells the students in Beijing to calm down and not to panic, spreading worries online, "[you're] making your parents worry."

"None of the Wuhan students are crying to go home to their parents they want to go home," he said.

"And if they are evacuated, it is for other reasons and not the safety of their universities, so appreciate that your schools are doing their best in these difficult times."

But students cannot help but feel homesick and worries as they are stranded in the middle of the outbreak, they have told the Samoa Observer.

Tapusalaia has also told the students to pray for those working around the clock to contain the virus spread.

"If there's any country that can tackle this kind of virus, it's China given their commitment and dedication to work as a team," he said in a message on one of the group chats.

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