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Web Desk
January 31, 2020

Pakistan stops China flight operations amid coronavirus emergency


Web Desk
Fri, Jan 31, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday halted flights to and from China with immediate effect, a civil aviation official told a foreign news agency, as the virus death toll reached 213 and the World Health Organization (WHO) called it a global health emergency.

“We are suspending flights to China until Feb 2,” additional secretary of aviation Abdul Sattar Khokhar told Reuters by phone, adding the situation would be reviewed after that date.

He declined to comment on the reason for the closure.

Some airlines including British Airways, have already suspended flights to China due to warnings of the coronavirus outbreak.

The suspension of flight operations will add to the worries of Pakistani nationals in China as they were pleading the government for their immediate evacuation.

While all the major countries are bringing their citizens from Wuhan, the epicenter of deadly virus outbreak, Pakistan on Thursday announced that “it was not advisable” to evacuate Pakistanis from China.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Dr Zafar Mirza said, "we don't want to take any emotional decision which will cause this virus to spread further," he said.

"It is also our responsibility to ensure that our citizens in Wuhan are being properly taken care of and see to it whether they are being provided food or items of daily use or not," he added.

‘Do not travel to China’

The United States on Friday told its citizens to avoid China after the World Health Organization declared a global coronavirus emergency.

The State Department raised it warning alert to the highest level, telling Americans "do not travel" to China and urged those already there to leave.

Hours earlier, the WHO, which was criticised for initially downplaying the virus threat, changed tack after crisis talks in Geneva.

"Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as the emergency was declared.

"We must all act together now to limit further spread... We can only stop it together."

Growing panic

China said Friday it planned to send charter planes to bring back Hubei residents who are now abroad, citing the "practical difficulties" that they have encountered overseas. Those from Wuhan will be returned to their quarantined city, the foreign ministry said.

Death toll grows

China has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

But the number of new deaths and cases continues to swell.

The death toll was hiked on Friday to 213 after 43 new deaths, all but one in Hubei. Most deaths have been elderly people.

China’s National Health Commission also said Friday that 1,982 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the total to 9,692.

This photo taken on January 30, 2020 shows staff members of a funeral parlour wearing protective suits disinfecting a colleague after they transferred a body at a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, during the virus outbreak in the city. Photo: AFP

That exceeds the 8,096 cases from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) a similar pathogen that spread to more than two dozen countries in 2002-03, and killed 774 people, mostly in China and Hong Kong.

Airlifts continue

Thousands of foreigners have been trapped in Wuhan since it was sealed off last week, and countries have been scrambling to organise evacuation flights for their nationals.

France on Friday airlifted around 200 of its citizens from the city. They will be placed under two-week quarantine back home.

Britain followed suit within hours, extracting 110 British and foreign nationals.

"It's sad to leave a country which you're attached to," Adrien, a 26-year-old French auto industry employee, told AFP before the flight. "We're also relieved because we don't know how things will turn out in China."

Japan and the United States were the first to fly citizens out on Wednesday.

A passenger is carried on a stretcher following the arrival of the third charter flight from the Chinese city of Wuhan, which was arranged by Japan´s government to evacuate its citizens, at Haneda airport in Tokyo on January 31, 2020. Photo: AFP

Others that have done so include South Korea and India.

Three people aboard Japan's first evacuation flight tested positive after landing back home, two of whom showed no symptoms, underscoring the difficulty detecting the coronavirus.

Japan has drawn criticism by allowing its evacuees to "self-quarantine".