From the quarantine

February 9, 2020

More than 500 Pakistan students are stranded in Wuhan after the coronavirus outbreak, awaiting a clear evacuation strategy from the Pakistani government

“It is expected that a cure for coronavirus will become available in about a week. The situation will be under control soon and the panic will subside when people will see life returning to normal in Wuhan. It will once again become a bustling city and the lockdown tension and travel ban predicament will begin to wane automatically,” Chinese Consul General in Lahore Long Dingbin tells The News on Sunday.

He advises the more than 500 Pakistan students in Wuhan to stay calm and stay in their designated areas. He adds that the lockdown policy has helped curb the spread of the virus. As far as the safety of Pakistani students is concerned, other than the 4 who tested positive and are under treatment, no case has surfaced since January 1, he notes. He rules out the possibility of any negative impact of this on Pakistan-China bilateral trade and CPEC projects.

However, he does not confirm the delivery, of ‘emergency funds around $840 per month to Pakistani students in China’ mentioned by Senator Shibli Faraz during his speech in Senate a few days back. “I only came to know [about it] through the media”, he says.

“I haven’t received the promised sum. It might be a political stunt,” says Naseem Baloch, a Pakistani student from Gwadar, in the first year of his MPhil. He has been staying in a dormitory of his Central China Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei province.

“I’m in contact with many Pakistani students’ groups in 17 universities in Hubei province and as far as I know, no one has received these funds,” he adds.

However, he praises the university administration for providing students free halal meals three times a day, precautionary medicines, masks, drinking water, and internet access in their rooms.

He is critical of the demand for evacuation by a few Pakistani students in Wuhan, saying that Pakistan has a poor healthcare infrastructure and worries that if any one returns to Pakistan even after completing the 14 days incubation period, there could still be issues. Before getting quarantined, he says, he had feared that it would be very hard to monitor the movement of suspected cases. The possible devastation would be much more horrific than the lockdown tension in China.

The comments of Pakistani students mostly point towards the need for the Pakistani government to share its plans with the students so they have some clarity about what to expect from the future.

“I, too have not received such money,” reveals another student, Muhammad Ibrahim, who is a fourth year student of MBBS at the Hubei University of Science and Technology.

“What to talk about $840, we are out of cash and banks are closed. We don’t have money even for daily necessities like halal food. Prices of daily commodities have increased exorbitantly,” he says.

He lashes out at what he calls a lethargic response of the Pakistani embassy. “We are a group of around 60 students. Whenever we contact the embassy, the representatives ask for our biodata – our names, addresses, universities’ names. They have no answer when we ask for help,” he says.

Showing dissatisfaction with the response by his university and local authorities, he says “we are given only a few milk packets, biscuits, and some water. The supplies are insufficient.”

He disagrees with Baloch and demands prompt evacuation, citing the examples of Indonesian and Indian students who have gone back home. Pakistani students he says have been left in the lurch. He criticises the Pakistani government for not sharing with them the time-frame for an evacuation plan and contrasts this with the steps taken by the Chinese government to provide short-term relief. He says that in the absence of a clear evacuation plan, students don’t know if even after completing 14 days incubation time and passing through recommended medical procedures, they will be allowed to fly back.

“We’re willing to buy tickets ourselves if we are allowed to go back. There are reports that university might freeze the sessions. If this happens, what we will do over the next six months?” he asks.

Maqsood ur Rehman, a Pakistani student from China University of Geo Sciences, Wuhan, disagrees with Ibrahim calling the suggestion that the Pakistani and Chinese governments are not facilitating students a falsehood. He says, students are being provided all possible facilities. Amjad Hussain, a fellow student who goes to the same university, concurs. He says parents of Pakistani students should not to be worried as measures being taken are meeting all their daily needs. “We are safe and an evacuation won’t help the situation right now,” he added.

Muhammad Asad, a graduate from Wuhan University and now working for a private company in Wuhan adds to this debate. He posits that Pakistani students were not an exception, “there are thousands of other students from various nations staying in their respective universities and rejection an evacuation strategy,” he says.

A Pakistani student, Smoot Muhammad from Hubei province who was quarantined when he tried to fly from Shanghai Airport needed money for medical treatment. The Pakistani consulate in Shanghai bore all his expenses, the official adds. “We also provided RMB 8,600 to students in a university for food”, he points out.

Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has recommended “no evacuations from Wuhan”. He says that there is no need to overreact and people should remain calm.

The comments of Pakistani students mostly point towards the need for the Pakistani government to share its plans with the students so they have some clarity about what to expect from the future. Most students are satisfied with the efforts of the Chinese authorities, but they are divided on response and facilitation by Pakistan authorities.

The writer is a freelance journalist

Coronavirus: Pakistani students in Wuhan not happy with embassy