While foreigners flee China, Pakistan tells its citizens to stay

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NEW DELHI – For days, Nadeem Bhatti, a university student in Wuhan, China, watched as his foreign companions fled from the center of the coronavirus outbreak: ranks of Indians, Nepalese and others bleakly entered the buses while their governments evacuated them from the area hot. .

But Mr. Bhatti, like hundreds of other Pakistani students, stayed behind.

The Pakistani government has asked Mr. Bhatti and the other 800 Pakistani students in Wuhan to stay, as a result of a grim calculation by the government.

Pakistan’s health system is in ruins. Exhausted hospitals lack doctors and trained supplies. If infected citizens return home, the virus would probably spread endlessly throughout the country. Pakistan is one of the last places in the world that still fights polio and dengue and H.I.V. They are on the rise.

“Believe me, at first I thought we should go back because we could be infected by the virus,” said Bhatti, a 25-year-old civil engineering student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology. “Some nights I couldn’t sleep due to stress.”

“But now we are thinking no. There are no good hospitals to treat the coronavirus at home and the Chinese are working very hard to overcome this, ”he said.

But other Pakistanis wonder if they are pawns in a larger geopolitical game. China is one of Pakistan’s most important allies, and as the weakest of the two partners, Pakistan may be under pressure to keep its citizens in China so as not to embarrass Beijing.

China is struggling to contain the new coronavirus and has been under intense global scrutiny for its slow initial response to the virus. On Tuesday, the government announced that 1,016 people had died from the virus since December. More than 100 of those deaths occurred on Monday in Hubei Province, whose capital is Wuhan.

  • Updated on February 10, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a new virus named for the crown-shaped peaks that protrude from its surface. Coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a variety of respiratory diseases from the common cold to more dangerous conditions, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to a preliminary investigation, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and possibly airborne. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could infect between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health problem, the risk for most people outside of China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. He came to Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What happens if I am traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to non-citizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying home when you are sick.

Suspicions that Pakistan was being too obsequious grew last week after the country resumed commercial flights to China. Pakistani citizens with the media can return home if they are negative for the coronavirus.

On Twitter this week, Dr. Zafar Mirza, health advisor to Pakistan’s prime minister, urged Pakistani citizens in China to remain calm.

The government is “discussing the situation at the highest level and will make the best decision in view of all the factors, with reference to the devastating global potential coronavirus pandemic,” Dr. Mirza wrote. “Rest assured that it is ours and we care!”

A Pakistani student trapped in Xianning, outside of Wuhan and asking to be evacuated, was shot.

“Do you care a little?” Wrote the user, identified on Twitter only as Muhammad Ibraheem, who studies medicine at the University of Science and Technology of Hubei. “Why don’t you kill us all? It will be easy for you, or sell us to China. At least you’ll get some benefits. You let us die here.

In an interview, Mr. Ibraheem described a desperate situation in Xianning where he said medical supplies were running out as the death toll increased. He and many other Pakistani students are running out of money to buy food, since the banks are closed and A.T.M. is closed.

At the beginning of the outbreak, the government was so focused on containing the virus and putting the students, like a large part of the population, locked up that they forgot to provide basic support for Mr. Ibraheem and his colleagues, he said.

“We had no water for three days. And then our university provided us, but it was four liters of water for each student to last five days,” he said, adding that he and his classmates boiled non-potable tap water when they finished.

“The Pakistani government is not helping at all,” he said.

The Pakistani government declined to comment when it was reached.

Student groups have resorted to videotaping their anxious pleas before the Pakistani government, asking to be evacuated.

Mr. Bhatti described a situation as desperate as Mr. Ibraheem’s during the first days of the outbreak: students who ran out of food and were forbidden to leave the dormitory.

After the students’ hungry pleas, the school administration established a system where Mr. Bhatti and other students can go to an office on campus and order what they need. He then retires to his room until a knock at the door indicates that his order has arrived, placed at the door by an invisible delivery man, who walks away quickly.

Sometimes his mother calls while he is eating, but his anxiety stresses him, he admits.

“My mother loves me at home,” Bhatti said. “She is crying and praying for me and distributing food to the poor people in our neighborhood so they can also pray for me.”

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