By Dr. Abdul Razak Shaikh
Pakistanis stranded in China started arriving in Islamabad on Monday as the government resumed flight operations to the virus that hit the country.
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad later in the day, Special Assistant to Prime Minister for Health Dr. Zafar Mirza clarified that none of the passengers that arrived in the country on Monday were suspected to have coronavirus or needed to be kept under observation.
He highlighted that no citizen, whether Chinese or Pakistani is allowed to leave China without spending a 14-days, disease-free period.
This measure has protected the people of our country. The flights that arrived on Monday carried both Pakistani and Chinese citizens who were screened according to the protocol in place.
The death toll in China soared to more than 600 and nearly 35,000 people infected with the deadly coronavirus.
The new coronavirus has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization, as the outbreak, continues to spread outside China.
Several countries, including India, scrambled to evacuate their nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, as the death toll in China soared above 600 and 35,000 people infected with the deadly virus.
The virus that emerged in early December and traced to a market in Hubei province capital Wuhan that sold wild animals have now spread to more than two dozen nations, including India, the US, Britain, Russia, and Sweden.
So far about hundreds of cases have been reported in other countries, India where the first case is confirmed in Kerala.
Several countries, including India, the US, Japan, South Korea, UK, and Bangladesh, have evacuated their nationals from Wuhan by sending special aircraft.
The World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak a global emergency but did not advise international trade or travel restrictions.
According to a study by the University of Hong Kong scientists, as many as 75,815 people in Wuhan may have been infected with the new coronavirus, the South China Morning Post reported.
The research, published in The Lancet on Saturday, is based on the assumption that each infected person could have passed the virus on to 2.68 others, the Hong Kong-based daily said.
Earlier the Foreign Office spokesperson of Pakistan said on Thursday there had been no evacuations from China amidst the coronavirus outbreak and that countries had only spoken to Chinese authorities so far in this regard.
Islamabad is monitoring the evolving situation and will make a decision on evacuation after consultations among all the stakeholders.
Regardless of any WHO declaration, governments, companies, and people around the world continued to ramp up efforts to try and contain the mysterious illness that is believed to have emerged from an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing thanked Pakistan for extending their unwavering support to the country during this difficult time.
He explained that so far people leaving China are being screened over a 14-days period. However, nobody from Hubei province or the city of Wuhan, ground zero for the outbreak, had been allowed to travel domestically or internationally.
Right now we are not encouraging Chinese citizens to travel abroad, he said. He added that the Chinese citizens traveling to Pakistan are being traced and monitored by the respective embassies and companies.
Some Pakistani students in Wuhan, however, are complaining that they are not being taken care of by the Chinese authorities and demanded immediate evacuation in a social media post earlier this week.
Meanwhile, the US has told its citizens not to travel to China.
The state department issued a level four warning having previously urged Americans to reconsider travel to China and said any citizens in China should consider departing using commercial means.
China has said it will send charter plans to bring back Hubei province residents who are overseas as soon as possible.
Most international cases are in people who had been to Wuhan in Hubei.
However in eight cases – in Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and the United States, patients were infected by people who had traveled to China.
There were up to 800 Pakistanis studying in various universities in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people which has been quarantined by the Chinese authorities in an effort to stem the spread of the deadly
Earlier Special Assistant for Health Dr.Zafer Mirza said in Islamabad We believe that right now, it is in the interest of our loved ones in China to stay there. It is in the largest interest of the region, world, a country that we don’t evacuate them now.
This is what the WHO is saying, this is China’s policy and this is our policy as well. We are standing with China in full solidarity.
Right now the government of China has contained this epidemic in Wuhan city. If we act irresponsibly and start evacuating people from there, this epidemic will spread all over the world like wildfire.
He said Pakistan’s embassy in China was in contact with the Pakistani citizens and the government believes that China’s policies to contain the virus were adequate.
The government cares about its citizens just as much as their own families. But we don’t want to take an emotional decision and become a reason for the spread of this disease.
Meanwhile, the FO spokesperson said the opening of the Pakistan-China border has been delayed until April due to the virus outbreak.
The border crossing was previously scheduled to begin functioning in February, however, the Gilgit Baltistan government had sought a delay in the opening as a precautionary measure.
As Gilgit Baltistan is Pakistan’s closest region to China, precautionary measures are needed to prevent any possible threat of the spread of the disease to Pakistan.
The concern is that it could spread to countries with weaker health systems. Pakistan is among them and may cause epidemics.