Precautionary measure follows WHO declaring coronavirus epidemic a global health emergency
Pakistan on Friday placed a temporary ban on all flights to and from China, according to civil aviation authorities, a few hours after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus epidemic a “global health emergency.”
“We are suspending flights to China until Feb. 2,” senior aviation official Abdul Sattar Khokhar told news agency Reuters. He said the prevailing situation would be reviewed after that date and the next course of action decided. He did not specify if there was any particular reason for the flights’ closure at this stage.
A day earlier, national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had announced it was also suspending flights to Beijing until Feb. 2.
The moves follow a press conference by Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza in which he announced that it was in the larger interest to not evacuate any Pakistani citizens from China, as it risked spreading the flu-like coronavirus. “Right now the government of China has contained this epidemic in Wuhan city. If we act irresponsibly and start evacuating people from there, this epidemic will spread all over the world like wildfire,” he told journalists in Islamabad.
Mirza, flanked by Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui, said the Pakistani embassy in China was in constant contact with stranded citizens, and urged people to register themselves to receive up-to-date information from authorities.
Common signs of the novel coronavirus sweeping China—with at least 213 people dead and around 10,000 infected nationwide—include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Mirza on Wednesday confirmed that four Pakistani students in China had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Residents of Wuhan city, where the virus originated, they are among approximately 500 Pakistani students who had been living in the city when the virus started to spread. The four are being well taken care, said Mirza, and are in constant touch with the Pakistani embassy.