Women’s football icon Tabitha Chawinga is set to return to her base in China today after getting assurance from her club that she will be safe from coronavirus that has hit the Asian country.
The Malawi women’s national football team captain said she is travelling back to China to join her Superleague side Jiangsu Suning which resumed training on Tuesday.
“Of course, the first thing that I did when I got a call from the club management was to ask whether I would be safe considering the current situation there and they assured me that they had been cleared by the authorities,” she said.
Tabitha said the city where she is based Nanjing in Jiangsu is not affected by the coronavirus unlike her sister Temwa, who is based in Wuhan, the epicenter of the infection.
“So, I am returning to China willingly having been assured of my safety,” she said.
However, Tabitha said it is still uncertain on when the season will start.
On her part, Temwa said they have not resumed training yet.
“A few weeks ago, I asked my club officials if they could allow me to return home until the situation improves, but they refused, saying we are likely to regroup next month.
“So, I just stay indoors and I train on my own,” she said.
Ministry of Health and Population spokesperson Joshua Malango said there are no travel restrictions to China.
“We are only discouraging people from travelling to China until the coronavirus is contained.
“There are also some areas in China which are not affected by coronavirus,” he said.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) president Walter Nyamilandu last week described the Chawinga sisters’ situation as precarious.
“The issue here is that they are employees and the ideal situation could be their clubs loaning them to either foreign or local teams.
“If there is a possibility to play in Malawi, then we could facilitate that, but that would depend on their respective teams’ stand.
“As FA [Football Association], we are keen to see them play as they are key national team players and we have back-to-back  Women’s Africa Cup of Nations [Afcon] qualifiers against e-Swatini coming up early April,” he said.
This was after Jiangsu Suning turned down a six-month loan request from French top league side Olympique Lyonnais to sign Tabitha.
China has greatly restricted travel and banned large gatherings in major cities in order to halt the spread of the virus, which is considered highly contagious. All professional sporting events have been suspended.
The coronavirus continues to spread in China with the total number of confirmed cases estimated at 78 064 and the death toll from the outbreak rose to 2 715 as of Tuesday.