Islamabad: Pakistan government has decided not to evacuate its citizens from the coronavirus-hit Wuhan city to show "solidarity" with its all-weather ally, a senior official announced on Thursday though four Pakistani nationals have contracted the deadly disease in China.
There were up to 800 Pakistanis studying in various universities in Wuhan a city of 11 million people which has been quarantined by the Chinese authorities in an effort to stem the spread of the deadly virus that has killed 170 people and infected nearly 8,000 others.
Pakistan has decided not to evacuate its nationals from China in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said.
"We believe that right now, it is in the interest of our loved ones in China (to stay there). It is in the largest interest of the region, world, country that we don't evacuate them now," he was quoted as saying by Dawn News.
"This is what the WHO is saying, this is China's policy and this is our policy as well. We are standing with China in full solidarity," he said.
"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," Mirza said.
On Wednesday, Mirza confirmed that up to four Pakistani students in China were diagnosed with the coronavirus.
"That number remains at four. It has not increased," he said on Thursday.
Mirza said that the Pakistan government's decision not to evacuate its people from Wuhan did not mean that it didn't care about them.
He said Pakistan's embassy in China was in contact with the Pakistani citizens. He said that the government believes that China's policies to contain the virus were adequate.
"Government cares about its citizens just as much as their own families. But we don't want to take an emotional decision and become a reason for the spread of this disease," he said.
However, some worried Pakistani students in Wuhan have complained that they are not being taken care of by the Chinese authorities and demanded immediate evacuation in a social media post earlier this week, The Nation newspaper reported.
Unlike Pakistan, India has announced that it plans to evacuate its citizens, mostly students, from Wuhan city as well as from the worst-hit Hubei province from Friday.
Earlier, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said that the government had complete data of Pakistani students currently in China and was in touch with Chinese authorities to address any challenges the students may be facing.
Farooqui lauded China's efforts to deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus and said Pakistan stood by China in this difficult time.
A large proportion of the Pakistanis living in China were students of which over 500 students were based in the central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the new virus.
Meanwhile, the FO spokesperson said the opening of the Pakistan-China border has been delayed until April due to the virus outbreak.
The border crossing was previously scheduled to begin functioning in February, however, the Gilgit Baltistan government had sought a delay in the opening as a precautionary measure.
As Gilgit Baltistan is Pakistan's closest region to China, precautionary measures are needed to prevent any possible threat of the spread of the disease to Pakistan, an official statement said.