In December 2019, when China suffered the first outbreak of the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Wuhan, the government decided to quarantine the city along with thirteen other neighboring cities in Hubei province.
This measure affected more than 40 million people, both Chinese and foreign citizens, including almost 500 young Pakistanis studying in Wuhan. By December 19, four had already tested positive for the coronavirus. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the international public health emergency.
The coronavirus, which usually occurs in animals, evolved to the point that it has infected humans, as was seen in the case of previous epidemics of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Coronavirus respiratory syndrome (MERS) . There are four of the seven known strains of the coronavirus that also cause mild respiratory symptoms similar to those of a common cold.
Traveling becomes a problem
On January 28, when a Pakistani student traveling from Wuhan arrived in Karachi, he was admitted to an isolation ward of a private hospital. The student, only identified as Arsalan, will be under observation for 14 days.
Since then, the growing scope of the epidemic has prevented the departure of other people. Some 150 Pakistanis were stranded for several days at Urumqi Airport, in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. Tariq Rauf, who is in China doing a PhD, mentioned in a video that the Pakistani community is stranded in Urumqi because they canceled flights leaving for Pakistan.
Like many other countries, Pakistan canceled all flights to and from China until February 2, 2020, when authorities were expected to reassess the situation and decide how to continue.
Students appeal to their Government
Pakistani students stranded in Hubei province used social media to ask the Government of Pakistan to send for them; the label also circulates #EvacuatePakistaniStudents (Evacuate Pakistani students).
On Twitter, Umar Bhutto, who lives in Karachi, told about the difficulties his brother and friends suffer:
My elder Brother & other Pakistani students requesting to government of Pakistan to help them out from China due to corona virus. There are other several Pakistani Students who are in Stuck In China. Kindly Do Something for our Pakistani Students. : ”(#coronarovirus @ImranKhanPTI pic.twitter.com/FfBI1K47BG
– Umar Bhutto ?? (@ umarbhutto50) January 30, 2020
My older brother and other Pakistani students ask the Government of Pakistan to help them leave China because of the coronavirus. There are other Pakistani students stranded in China. Please do something for them.
In the video, Bhutto explains that when stranded students contacted Pakistan's embassy in Beijing, officials advised them to go to higher authorities. For that reason, they recorded the video to ask for help from the Government of Pakistan and to inform the public about their situation.
please raise the issue of #Pakistani students being stranded in #Wuhan#coronarvirus#EvacuatePakistaniStudentspic.twitter.com/CcmfwNIdHs@imrankhanPTI @SMQureshiPTI@sayedzbukhari @ForeignOfficePk@bolnetwork
– Abdullah (@ Abdullah_575757) January 30, 2020
Please solve the problem of Pakistani students stranded in Whuan.
However, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry tweeted:
Regular contact and updates being sought from Chinese authorities. Our Embassy reaching out extensively to all our students and nationals. Chinese universities have ensured free meals to all students and regular monitoring of students ’health.
– Spokesperson ?? MoFA (@ForeignOfficePk) January 28, 2020
We have regular contact and updates from the Chinese authorities. Our embassy contacts all our students and citizens. Chinese universities guarantee free meals for students and monitor their health regularly.
However, for some, that is not enough. Hajrat Ali, a Pakistani student living in Wuhan, posted a video that shows how India acts in the process of evacuating its students from China:
India evacuating their students from a university in wuhan..And our politicians rejected to evacuate us and making excuses. Don’t make excuses that no one is evacuating their students and don’t make Pakistani fool @iihtishamm @ImranKhanPTI @zfrmrza @SMQureshiPTI pic.twitter.com/7fMr1lhYxL
– Hazrat Ali (@Hazrat__Ali) January 31, 2020
India evacuates its students from a Wuhan university. And our politicians refuse to evacuate and excuse themselves. Don't give any more pretexts that nobody is evacuating your students, don't take us for fools.
In the video, he expressed frustration that the Pakistani government did not help its stranded students while other neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and India, were beginning to evacuate their citizens in Hubei province.
There are no evacuation plans
The chances of Pakistan imitating these countries are slim. On January 31, Senator Seemi Ezdi of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party admitted that, although the government's decision not to evacuate students “seems firm, (…) they are likely to receive better attention and treatment in China”. He fears that Pakistan will not be sufficiently prepared to provide the quality of medical care that coronavirus patients would need.
Zafar Mirza, special assistant to the prime minister in national health services, supports this position and said: “We believe it is better for our loved ones in China to stay there. It is for the greater good of the region, the world and the country that we do not evacuate them now. ”
Meanwhile, the first shipment of coronavirus detection equipment, donated by Japan, arrived at the National Institute of Health of Pakistan (NIH) in Islamabad. The shipment allowed health sector employees to analyze at least one thousand possible samples of the new coronavirus.
Fear and misinformation in Pakistan
Despite the refusal of the Pakistani Government to evacuate students, the fact that there is a large number of Chinese citizens in Pakistan, in addition to frequent trips between the two countries, instills fears among residents.
The port of Karachi (KPT) took steps to quarantine the maritime personnel of China and Southeast Asia to help stop the spread of the coronavirus; however, a lot of misinformation also circulates.
An example was the rumor that the Government of Punjab had warned not to ingest lamb meat for 60 days; the authorities denied it, but it continues to spread like wildfire on social networks. Another case was that of a false emergency notification stating that the Ministry of Health of Pakistan advised to avoid crowded places.
Some people posted comments and insensitive memes on social networks where they suggested that the virus was Allah's revenge against China for banning the nicab and for repression against Muslims in Uighur, while claiming that the Pakistanis, for being Muslims , would be protected. The official religion of Pakistan is Islam: More than 96% of the population is Muslim.
– Muhammad Osman?? (@inketweets) January 31, 2020
Once, China said: “Nicab is prohibited.” Now the Chinese wear masks like those of a nicab. The power of Allah.
While the Pakistanis stranded in Hubei do their best to cope with the situation, their relatives anxiously await a safe return home.