ISLAMABAD: The government says the prime minister is most concerned about the difficulties of Pakistanis stranded in China after coronavirus outbreak and no one needs to behave as a champion on this issue. It ruled out the immediate evacuation of Pakistani citizens stranded in China, saying that the citizens will stay in China until full recovery.
All Pakistanis, be they residents, students, or visitors, arriving from China upon resumption of flights will have to be certified disease-free by the Chinese government before they can embark on their homeward journey.
Bringing Pakistanis under the ambit of a regulation which previously applied to Chinese travellers only is expected to
play a crucial role in keeping Pakistan safe from coronavirus.
Announcing the decision at a press conference on Saturday, PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza claimed having reached an agreement to this effect with the Ambassador of China. Further details of the agreement will be shared after its formalisation. Terming it a “huge measure in the interest of all Pakistanis,” Dr Zafar said, “We have agreed, in principle, that no Pakistani will leave China unless kept under observation for 14 days and certified disease-free thereafter.”
By taking this measure, Pakistan has introduced an extra tier of precaution for protection of Pakistanis as the case definition of coronavirus sees travel to and stay in China as important factors for transmission. “If we are able to control the incubation period out of Pakistan, we will be able to protect all Pakistanis from the disease,” the special assistant said.
Sharing another important development, Dr Zafar said the Foreign Office has worked very hard and its ambassador in Beijing has arrived at an understanding with the Chinese government, whereby any Pakistani in China whose ticket or visa may have expired due to extended stay will not have to individually fight their cases with embassies, and all necessary facilitation will be provided for their hassle-free return.
The government, Dr Zafar said, is deeply concerned about its citizens in China but will only take the right measures in conformity with the broader perspective of public health and safety. “We cannot mimic what a handful of other countries are doing; we have to act in larger public interest,” he stated. Dr Zafar said Pakistan has absolute faith in the Chinese government’s steps for containment of the epidemic.
Responding to concerns about why the Pakistan government is not working on repatriation of its citizens, Dr Zafar said Pakistan stands by its earlier policy decision. “Only seven or eight countries have so far had their nationals evacuated. China has, with some reservations, permitted these countries to airlift their citizens. Let us not forget that Wuhan houses citizens from 120 countries, all of which including Pakistan are supporting the Chinese government’s policies on the issue,” he said.
The SAPM said Pakistan is ensuring that its people in China are properly looked after. “We are in touch with the Chinese government, their Foreign Office and our embassy in Beijing on a daily basis. The Chinese foreign minister has assured our foreign minister that in view of the two countries’ time-tested relations, special priority will be accorded to the wellbeing of Pakistani citizens and students,” he informed.
Dr Zafar shared that Pakistan was to receive diagnostic kits by Saturday night, and will then be in a position to exclude or confirm cases of coronavirus. Meanwhile, an awareness campaign focusing on various aspects of the disease was launched on the electronic media on Saturday.
“I have spoken to the Pemra chairman who is now liaising with all media channels to bring them on board in the drive to air public service messages on a regular basis,” he added.
Dr Zafar also stated that the Ministry of Health, with the support of other relevant ministries, has prepared a comprehensive plan detailing how passengers will be received, screened, segregated and shifted to designated hospital wards. “If we are able to implement the plan, and there is no reason why we will not be able to do so, Pakistanis will remain safe from the epidemic,” he hoped.
Sharing latest data, Dr Zafar said the outbreak is spreading fast, and in the last three or four days, cases are rising by 2,000 to 3,000 every day. As of February 01, as many as 11,947 people have been diagnosed with it worldwide, with 249 deaths. The virus has spread to 27 countries, with some reporting human-to-human transmission, which indicates that the virus is longer confined to people who have a history of travel to or stay in China. There is no confirmed case of the disease in Pakistan so far. “The four or five suspected cases that had been isolated in Pakistan are recovering, as are our four Wuhan-based students who have been diagnosed with the disease,” Dr Zafar informed.
Soon after the press conference, Dr Zafar dashed to the Islamabad International Airport to review arrangements for screening of passengers. He instructed that fool-proof measures must be taken. “The federal and provincial governments are on the same page. We have prepared an effective strategy to protect Pakistanis,” he stated at the airport, where he also supervised mock exercises by teams of the Department of Health and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Meanwhile, coronavirus has killed 259 people in China and has spread to over 20 countries since emerging in a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
On Saturday, China’s National Health Commission said nearly 12,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus. Outside mainland China, there have been more than 100 infections reported in more than 20 countries. The World Health Organisation has declared an international emergency over the outbreak.
As of Saturday, 11,791 people have been infected across China, the majority in and around Wuhan. Most of the 259 who have died were in that region, but officials have confirmed multiple deaths elsewhere, including in the capital Beijing.
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