Coronavirus: Rescue of Pakistanis stranded in China begins after Imran Khan government’s U-turn
Pakistan had halted flights to and from the virus-hit country on Friday, drawing criticism from its citizens on social media and those in the city of Wuhan.
Pakistanis stranded in China amid an outbreak of novel coronavirus infections started arriving in the country on Monday after the government resumed flight operations to China, Dawn reported. Three flights carrying 143 passengers had arrived by noon.
Pakistan had halted flights to and from the virus-hit country on Friday, drawing criticism from its citizens on social media and those in the city of Wuhan, which is the epicentre of the outbreak. In a video shared on social media, a Pakistan student showed how Indians were being evacuated. “Shame on you Pakistan government, learn something from the Indians,” the student can be heard saying. He added that the Imran Khan government “won’t evacuate you even if you die, get infected or are still alive”.
Last week, Muhammad Rauf, a master’s student, told Reuters he and around 40 others were locked in their dormitory in Wuhan for 20 hours a day. “How long will the lockdown be?... What will we do? Just count down our days?” he asked, adding they had been asking the Pakistani government to formulate an evacuation plan for 10 days. On January 30, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza reiterated the Imran Khan government’s “trust [in China’s policies]”, adding that Islamabad would stand by Beijing, which has urged other countries not to overreact. “We care about our children more than anyone else, but we need to realise our responsibilities and take the right step,” he told the newspaper. “We don’t want to copy others [...] For us, it is more important to take steps that ensure that maximum number of people are saved.”
On Sunday, Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Naghmana Hashmi said Pakistani students should not be evacuated from Wuhan as “medical facilities in Pakistan do not meet the standards” required to combat the novel coronavirus, Geo News reported.
The government seemed to have taken note of the heavy criticism of its decision to not rescue its stranded citizens. On Monday, Mirza said none of the Pakistanis evacuated from China were suspected of having the coronavirus, and do not need to be quarantined. He pointed out that no one – be it Chinese or Pakistani – was allowed to leave China without completing a 14-day “disease-free period”.
“This measure...has protected the people of our country,” Mirza told reporters. “The flights that arrived today carried both Pakistani and Chinese citizens who were screened according to the protocol in place. We had them [the passengers] sign our special health declaration forms. Therefore, the overall situation [regarding coronavirus] is satisfactory.”
On Sunday, Pakistan had received almost 1,000 coronavirus testing kits from China to strengthen its capability of diagnosing the disease, which has killed more than 300 people, PTI reported. “We have now capability of diagnosing coronavirus in Pakistan,” the health adviser tweeted. “I want to applaud our NIH [National Institute of Health] leadership and team for their hard work in securing the reagent for diagnosing.”