Health authorities have confirmed that four Pakistani students in China have been tested positive for the novel coronavirus which has set off global alarms since the viral outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in central Hubei Province, late last year.
The disclosure by Dr Zafar Mirza, the special assistant to the prime minister on National Health Services, came two days after a group of Pakistani students made an impassioned appeal in a video clip for their evacuation from Wuhan.
According to official figures, there are 500 to 800 registered Pakistanis studying in various universities of Wuhan – the city of 11 million people which has been quarantined by the Chinese authorities in an effort to stem the spread of the deadly virus.
“The [four] students had symptoms of coronavirus which were later confirmed after testing,” Dr Mirza told a news conference on Wednesday.
“I want to assure the families of the students on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan that the government of Pakistan will be responsible for their complete medical
treatment,” he added. “We will take care of them the same way we would care for our own children.”
Dr Mirza noted that there were around 28,000 to 30,000 Pakistanis in China, most of them students. He added that there were 500 Pakistani students in Wuhan, a number that had already been mentioned earlier in a statement issued by the Embassy of Pakistan in Beijing.
Dr Mirza elaborated that he was in contact with Pakistan’s Embassy in China and the staff was working day and night to provide the best medical aid to the ailing students.
“The four students are showing signs of improvement and we are hopeful of their speedy recovery,” he said, urging the media to refrain from trying to identify the students and maintain their privacy.
“Even if you [the media] find out about their identities, please exercise responsible journalism and don’t reveal their names,” he added.
Dr Mirza also said there were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Pakistan. “There were four suspected patients [in Pakistan]. We kept them under observation and collected samples from them that are being analysed,” he explained. “However,
their condition is improving and we can say with a certain degree of surety that they are not infected with coronavirus.”
The PM’s aide tweeted on Sunday that no Pakistani student in Wuhan had contracted coronavirus and Pakistan’s Embassy was actively in touch with them.
A couple of days ago, a video clip showing some Pakistani students appealing for their evacuation from Wuhan went viral on social media. In response, China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing assured that all Pakistani citizens, including students, in the quarantined metropolis of Hubei province “are safe”.
Ambassador Yao added that China was doing “all it can” to help the Pakistani community. “There is close coordination between Pakistan’s Embassy in Beijing and the Chinese government to facilitate the citizens in any way possible amid the viral outbreak,” he said.
In the video clip, a group of students from the Wuhan University of Science and Technology urged the Pakistani government to evacuate them.
“We’ve been trapped on the campus for so many days. And now we’re also running out of food supplies,” a female student, who identified herself as Hafsa Tayyab, said in the clip with more than a dozen students, all wearing surgical masks, standing behind her.
Hafsa said Wuhan had been cut off from the rest of the country. “We appeal to the Pakistani government to rescue us. Other countries are doing all they can to help their citizens stuck in the city,” she added.
Several countries are evacuating hundreds of their citizens from Wuhan as the death toll from the virus in China has reached 132, almost all in Hubei Province which is under virtual lockdown, while the number of confirmed cases has reached a total of 5,974.
The case number in China now exceeds 5,327 who were infected in the country with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus which killed about 800 people around the world in 2002-03.
While some experts believe the new strain, known as “2019-nCoV”, is not as deadly as SARS, it has created alarm because it is spreading quickly and there are still important unknowns surrounding it, such as its lethality and whether it is infectious before symptoms show.
While China has since moved to lock down most of Hubei, with a population around the same as Italy, the virus has still spread to more than a dozen countries from France to the United States.
The epidemic broke out on the eve of China’s Lunar New Year holiday, a time when millions of Chinese travel abroad and at home. Many of those flights have now been cancelled, and airports around the world are screening passengers from China for signs of infection.
In a major step towards controlling the global spread of the disease, scientists in Australia said they had developed a lab-grown version of the coronavirus, the first to be recreated outside of China.
(With additional input from agencies)