Senior official says it is in larger interest of world to keep coronavirus epidemic contained as WHO declares ‘global health emergency’
Pakistan on Thursday said it would not evacuate its citizens from China, as it is “in the larger interest of the region” that they not return while the coronavirus continues to spread globally.
“We believe it’s in the interest of our loved-ones in China [to stay]. It’s in the larger interest of the region, the world, and the country that we don’t evacuate them,” said Dr. Zafar Mirza, special assistant to the P.M. on National Health Services, at a press conference in Islamabad. “This is what the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying, this is China’s policy, and this is our policy as well. We stand by China in full solidarity,” he added. “Right now the Chinese government 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.”
According to Mirza, media reports about U.S. evacuations were related to diplomats, who Washington had pulled out under the Vienna Conventions. He said that unless WHO issued recommendations for mass evacuations, there was no reason to believe it was necessary.
WHO, late on Thursday night, declared a global health emergency over the spread of the coronavirus, with chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus telling a press conference it was due to what was happening in countries outside of China.
At least 213 people have died in China—mostly in Hubei province where the virus emerged—with almost 10,000 cases confirmed across the country. According to WHO, 98 cases have been reported in 18 other countries but there have been no deaths; most of the international cases are of people who had been to Wuhan city in Hubei. However, there have been eight cases of human-to-human infection—in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States.
Mirza said Islamabad was strictly following guidelines issued by WHO to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “We have to deal with the possibility of spread of this disease as a national emergency and all those measures must be taken as the national emergency is required,” he said, adding the government would launch an awareness drive—in English, Urdu and Chinese—to create awareness about the disease among the masses.
Mirza said the four Pakistani students who had been diagnosed with the coronavirus in China were in good health and were being carefully monitored. He maintained that no cases have been reported in Pakistan thus far.
According to the health official, the government has also established a national emergency operation center and activated national task force on international health regulations besides creating national coronavirus emergency core committee in which all ministries and sectors are represented. He said plans had been established to manage the flow of the international passengers and to place anyone with symptoms of the coronavirus under observation. “We are on high alert,” he said, adding thermal scanners that measure body temperature had been provided to health staff at airports in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
Mirza said there was no cause for panic, as the coronavirus could be countered by following simple precautions, such as covering the nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing, frequent hand washing with soap, avoiding close contact with sick people and animals, and not touching eyes, nose or mouths with unwashed hands.
The senior official also advised all Pakistanis currently in China to register themselves with the Pakistan embassy in Beijing to receive up-to-date information and instructions.
Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui, who was with Mirza at the press conference, said the main focus of the Pakistani embassy in China was to provide best possible assistance to Pakistani citizens and students.