ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday halted flights to and from China with immediate effect, a civil aviation official said, as the death toll from a virus outbreak spreading in China mounted and the World Health Organisation called it a global health emergency.
“We are suspending flights to China until Feb 2,” additional secretary of aviation Abdul Sattar Khokhar said, adding the situation will be reviewed after that date. He declined to comment on the reason for the closure.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has also decided to suspend flights to Beijing until Feb 2. Khokhar said PIA had been operating two flights between Pakistan and China but it has decided to suspend flight operations.
A day earlier, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza had announced that the government had decided not to repatriate Pakistani citizens stranded in China in accordance with the recommendations of the WHO. “We believe that right now, it is in the interest of our loved ones in China [to stay there]. It is in the larger interest of the region, world, country that we don’t evacuate them now,” he had said.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi had a telephonic conversation with Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and conveyed his condolences on the loss of precious lives due to outbreak of coronavirus in China. He lauded the relentless efforts undertaken by China for the containment of the virus and underscored that the government and the people of Pakistan stand firmly behind China in its resolute and momentous efforts to deal with the virus, a press release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
On behalf of the government of Pakistan, the foreign minister extended the offer of sending a field hospital to China, as well as sending group of doctors to the brotherly people to assist them in the recovery efforts. He hoped that the Chinese people under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will overcome the enormous challenge and emerge stronger in its aftermath.
The foreign minister also thanked the Chinese authorities who have taken immense pain to help the Pakistani students in Wuhan and hoped that Beijing will continue to take best possible measures for the protection of Pakistani nationals in China.
State Councilor Wang Yi, on behalf of Premier Li Keqiang, conveyed a special message of gratitude to Prime Minister Imran Khan underlining that Pakistan has shown tremendous support and solidarity with the Chinese people at this difficult time when they are fighting against spread of coronavirus. He thanked Pakistan for the assistance it is rendering to help China deal with the outbreak of virus.
Meanwhile, a Pakistani student who arrived in Karachi on Thursday from the virus-hit city of Wuhan in China has been admitted for monitoring in an isolation ward of a private hospital in the port city. A high-ranking official of the health department in Sindh said on Friday that the student, identified as Arsalan, will be kept in the isolation ward of the hospital at least 14 days for monitoring. “A sample of a bodily fluid of the student has been dispatched to Islamabad for tests related to the coronavirus. If the sample comes back negative, the student might be discharged earlier,” the official said.
The first consignment of primers (reagents) donated by Japan to Pakistan and aimed at detecting the novel coronavirus have reached the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad. The coronavirus detection kits will enable federal health officials to test at least 1,000 psamples for the lethal virus, officials said.
State Councilor Wang Yi underscored that China is taking effective, speedy, and urgent measures to contain the coronavirus. The global community, he said, has recognized those efforts. The director general of World Health Organization has expressed full confidence in China’s abilities and efforts to contain the virus, the Chinese foreign minister added.
He thanked Foreign Minister Qureshi for Pakistan’s offer of medical hospital as well sending a group of doctors to China. He assured the foreign minister that the Pakistani students in China are being treated ‘like our own’. The Chinese government, he asserted, is doing everything to ensure the safety, health and well-being of Pakistani students.