Pakistan suspends China flights for three days

By: News Desk      Published: 09:37 AM, 31 Jan, 2020
People wearing mask to ward off the threat of COVID-19

Pakistan on Friday suspended flights to and from China for three days as part of efforts to contain spread of deadly coronavirus, aviation sources said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already declared the outbreak of SARS-like disease a global health emergency.

Chinese authorities on Friday reported that the death toll from the epidemic has risen to 213 and around 10,000 people have been diagnosed as infected.

The United States, which has already evacuated its diplomatic staff from China, has told its citizens not to travel to the major trade partner.

The flights between Pakistan and China have been suspended “until February 2”, confirmed Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) additional secretary Abdul Sattar Khokhar to an international news agency.

The official did not give any specific reason for the measure, but he was quoted as saying that flights would be resumed after an assessment of the situation.

The national airline of Pakistan, PIA, which had been operating two flights a week to Beijing had already halted them on Thursday until Feb 2.

Pakistanis to remain in China

Also, on Thursday Pakistan Government had announced its decision that it will not repatriate its citizens in China as per WHO recommendations.

"We believe that right now, it is in the interest of our loved ones in China [to stay there]," Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza told a press conference in Islamabad.

“It is in the larger interest of the region, [the] world, [and the] country that we don't evacuate them at this time… This is what the World Health Organisation is advising, this is China's policy and this is our policy as well. We stand by China in full solidarity,” he said.

Mirza said that Pakistan’s embassy in China was in contact with the Pakistani citizens. He said Pakistan believes China's measures to contain the virus were satisfactory.

"Right now the government of China has contained this epidemic to Wuhan city. If we act irresponsibly and start evacuating people from there, this epidemic will spread all over the world like wildfire.”

He said that China has not allowed evacuation of people and US too has only evacuated its diplomatic staff, not all its citizens.

“This is a condition of the Vienna Convention which dictates that the host country can allow diplomats to leave if their country wishes for them to return," he pointed out.

A large number of Pakistanis living in China are students. Of them more than 500 are based in Wuhan city, the epicentre of the virus.

On Wednesday, the top health official had announced that as many as four Pakistani students in China had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

What Pakistani in Wuhan say?

"Fear, frustration and panic" is mounting among those still trapped in Wuhan, said Pakistani Ruqia Shaikh, 33, who was visiting friends when the Chinese city was locked down. 

There are around 500 Pakistani students in Wuhan. Currently four have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, an official in Islamabad has said.

Those with families are eager to leave, said Ruqia, though some students prefer to remain where they are - happier to take their chances against the disease than run the gauntlet of Pakistan's poor health facilities. 

"Our country is not capable of treating the coronavirus," she told AFP.