As Foreigners Flee China, Pakistan Tells Its Citizens to Stay


NEW DELHI — For days, Nadeem Bhatti, a university student in Wuhan, China, watched as his foreign classmates fled the center of the coronavirus outbreak — lines of Indians, Nepalis and others filed somberly onto buses as their governments evacuated them from the hot zone.

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

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

[Read: Coronavirus is forcing foreign students in China to choose: stay or go.]

Pakistan’s health care system is in shambles. Already strained hospitals lack trained doctors and supplies. If infected nationals return home, the virus would likely spread unabated across the country. Pakistan is one of the last places in the world still battling polio, and incidents of dengue fever and H.I.V. are on the rise.

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

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

But other Pakistanis wonder whether they are pawns in a larger geopolitical game. China is one of Pakistan’s most important allies, and as the weaker 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 come under intense global scrutiny for its slow initial response to the virus. On Wednesday, the government announced that 1,113 people had died from the virus since December. At least 94 of those deaths occurred on Tuesday in Hubei Province, the capital of which is Wuhan.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have 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. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens 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 at home when you’re sick.

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

On Twitter this week, Dr. Zafar Mirza, a senior health adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister, urged Pakistani nationals 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 factors, with reference to the devastating coronavirus potential global pandemic,” Dr. Mirza wrote. “Rest assured you are our own and we care!”

A Pakistani student stuck in Xianning, on the outskirts of Wuhan and appealing to be evacuated, shot back.

“Do you even a little care for us?” wrote the user, identified on Twitter only as Muhammad Ibraheem, who is studying medicine at Hubei University of Science and Technology. “Why don’t you kill all of us? It will be easy for you guys, or sell us to China. At least you will get some benefits. You left us to 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 steadily ticked up. He and many other Pakistani students are running out of money to buy food as the banks are closed and A.T.M.s shuttered.

At the start of the outbreak, the government was so focused on containing the virus and putting the students — like much of the population — under lockdown that they forgot to provide basic support for Mr. Ibraheem and his peers, he said.

“We didn’t have water for three days. And then our university provided for us, but it was four liters of water for each student to last for five days,” he said, adding that he and his peers boiled nonpotable tap water when they ran out.

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

The Pakistani government declined to comment when reached.

Groups of students have resorted to videotaping their anxious pleas to the Pakistani government, asking to be evacuated.

Mr. Bhatti described a situation as desperate as Mr. Ibraheem’s during the early days of the outbreak: students running out of food and barred from leaving the dormitory.

After hungry pleas from students, the school administration set up 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 on the door signals his order has arrived, placed on the doorstep by an unseen delivery person, who speeds away.

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

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



Sahred From Source link Science

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