Pakistanis stranded in virus-hit China return as flight operations resume

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ISLAMABAD, FEB 03 – Pakistanis stranded in China started arriving in Islamabad on Monday as the government resumed flight operations to the virus-hit country.

Three flights carrying a total of 143 passengers arrived by noon.

Pakistan, a day after the World Health Organisation declared the epidemic a global health emergency, had halted flights to and from China on Friday.

“We are resuming flight operations with China; a China Southern Airlines flight with 145 passengers on board will land at 9am at Islamabad International Airport on Monday,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, the senior joint secretary of aviation.

Following the resumption of flights, two flights carrying Pakistanis arrived from China, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza confirmed.

Taking to Twitter, Mirza said: “We supervised implementation of ‘Airport SOPs’ and I interviewed passengers.”

The first — a Qatar Airlines flight — arrived from Doha, carrying 40 students. Health department staff conducted medical examinations of all the students at the Islamabad airport after which they were permitted to go home.

A second flight — a China Southern Airlines flight CZ6007 — brought 69 passengers including 57 Pakistanis and 12 Chinese.

According to aviation officials, a checkup for coronavirus was conducted during which passengers were detained for an hour-and-a-half.

All the passengers were tested for the virus before being allowed to return home. The test results will be sent to the National Institute of Health, Islamabad. Until then, all the passengers will be “kept under observation,” officials added.

The flight included members of a group of Pakistani students and community members stranded in Ürümqi due to the suspension of flights in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak in China. They were earlier granted an 11-day visa extension by Chinese authorities.

The third flight, carrying 86 passengers, also arrived at the Islamabad International Airport, directly from China.

Ahead of the flight arrivals, the premier’s special assistant reviewed the arrangements for screening passengers at the airport.

“At all airports, screening systems have been strengthened. The Pakistani government is prepared for any emergency situation,” Mirza said, adding: “The health department has the facilities for detecting coronavirus cases.

“At all airports, comprehensive screening arrangements are available.”

Screening kits arrive

The resumption of flights comes a day after testing kits for the deadly disease reached Pakistan.

Mirza earlier told Dawn that thousands of testing kits had been arranged from multiple sources and hoped that no more kits would be required in future.

Additionally, all the seven suspected patients of novel coronavirus (NCV) were found to be completely safe.

“Just after getting the kits we decided to test all seven suspects who were kept in isolation wards of hospitals in Karachi, Multan and other cities,” he said. “Fortu­nately tests of all seven patients were found negative due to which we can surely say that there is no suspect of NCV in Pakistan.”

The testing kits would be provided wherever they were requi­red, he said, adding that now the National Institute of Health had become self-sufficient in diagnosis.

Earlier samples were being sent abroad to confirm if suspected patients were infected with NCV or not.

WHO Pakistan has also provided technical guidance and tools for screening along with laboratory support for management of NCV cases at federal and provincial levels, according to an official statement.

China’s death toll from the new coronavirus jumped above 360 on Monday to surpass the number of fatalities of its SARS crisis two decades ago, with dozens of people dying in the epicentre’s quarantined ground-zero.

The 57 confirmed new deaths was the single-biggest increase since the virus was detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan, where it is believed to have jumped from animals at a market into humans.

The virus has since spread to more than 24 countries, despite many governments imposing unprecedented travel bans on people coming from China.