ISLAMABAD: State Minister for Health Dr Zafar Mirza said on Monday that the authorities, with the help of China, have completed proper planning to prevent an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Pakistan.
Addressing a news conference alongside Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing in Islamabad, Mirza said the two countries were on the same page.
The two officials also appraised the public on measures taken by the two governments to contain the virus’ outbreak.
Referring to the suspected cases in Pakistan, Dr Mirza said seven individuals have been cleared and their tests have come back negative.
He added that the government had defined SOPs at all the airports for the people arriving from China and intended to consult with the provinces on the matter. “Our teams will go into the provinces to ensure they are on the same page as the Centre.”
Reiterating the government’s decision not to repatriate Pakistani nationals from Wuhan – the epicenter of the virus – he said, “It is better for them to stay there to ensure they are monitored and treated.”
He said that the government ‘is worried about the Pakistani citizens’ but ‘we also want to ensure there is no outbreak’.
“It is a tough decision for us.” However, the defacto health minister did say that decisions were subject to review.
He further urged the media to assist the government and push prevention guidelines to the public.
When asked about the test kits, Mirza said: “We do not want to dwell much on it since the medical kits are currently limited in quality and all the countries are seeking it.”
“What’s important is that Pakistan is now equipped to diagnose novel coronavirus,” he asserted.
Earlier on Monday, passenger flights from virus-hit China arrived at the Islamabad International Airport – repatriating Pakistanis stranded in the country – as flight operations between the two countries resumed.
Flights between the two countries were earlier suspended after the World Health Organisation declared the Wuhan coronavirus as a global health emergency. Pakistan on Friday had halted flights to and from China with immediate effect till February 2.
Pakistanis in virus-hit Chinese cities
Last week, the federal government said it would not evacuate Pakistani citizens – mostly students – from Wuhan. “We believe it’s in the interest of our loved-ones in China [to stay there]. It’s in the larger interest of the region, the world, and the country that we don’t evacuate them now,” said Mirza.
Almost 500 Pakistanis are studying in various universities of Wuhan, which is in virtual lockdown, while the total number of Pakistani nationals in China is between 28,000 and 30,000 – most of them are students. Mirza disclosed that at least four Pakistani students tested positive for the mysterious pathogen.
The Chinese city of 11 million people in the central Chinese province of Hubei has been quarantined by authorities in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation, which this week declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, has said global trade and travel restrictions are not needed.
Death toll rises
China’s death toll from a new coronavirus jumped above 360 on Monday to surpass the number of fatalities of its SARS crisis two decades ago, with dozens of people dying in the epicentre’s quarantined ground-zero.
The 57 confirmed new deaths was the single-biggest increase since the virus was detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have jumped from animals at a market into humans.
The virus has since spread to more than 24 countries, despite many governments imposing unprecedented travel bans on people coming from China.
The World Health Organisation has declared the crisis a global health emergency, and the first foreign death from the virus was reported in the Philippines on Sunday.