KARACHI: The Sindh government on Thursday asked Islamabad to ensure that around 1,000 students from the province currently studying in China’s Wuhan city — the epicentre of the lethal coronavirus outbreak — were brought back home safely.
The demand emerged on the same day that the PM’s Special Assistant on Health Dr Zafar Mirza announced that Pakistanis stranded in the People’s Republic would not be repatriated.
“At least 1,000 students belonging to Sindh are studying in Wuhan who should be [brought back] home,” said Agriculture Minister Ismail Rahu while speaking to reporters.
He complained that the Foreign Office was not responding positively to Sindh’s request in that regard.
He made the same request for students and other people belonging to the rest of the country in Wuhan to be brought back home. He said the provincial government had received information that a number of Pakistani students from Sindh were not even being given food.
“At least those who are found not carrying coronavirus through tests should be returned home as soon as possible.”
He said 200 of the some 1,000 students from Sindh belonged to Thatta district alone.
He said the Foreign Office had “completely failed” as it should have been proactive at the outset, which would have helped rescue every Pakistani student trapped in Wuhan.
He said the foreign ministry should know that every other country was already busy in protecting their citizens in China while many of those nations, including South Korea and Australia, had already rescued their nationals from there.
JPMC prepares for coronavirus
The Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) constituted on Thursday an 18-member Rapid Response Team to prepare against the novel coronavirus that has spread scare across the globe given its high infection rate and rising death toll in China.
So far, it has claimed lives of 170 patients and infected more than 7,000 people. The virus has spread to at least 16 countries.
“We have received a limited number of personal protective equipment for patients and the staff and asked for more from the government,” said JPMC executive director Dr Seemin Jamali, also head of the team.
The hospital had isolation wards as well as ventilators and more could be arranged to cater to emergencies, she added.
Asked about the virus’ diagnosis, she said no health facility in Pakistan currently had the diagnostic capacity for the new virus. “In such situations, travel and contact history of the patient carries a lot of importance that helps experts in taking critical decisions on care and treatment.”
According to her, signs of the infection include fever, chest infection, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory syndrome.
“Earlier, it was said that the incubation period of the coronavirus was five days but now it is being said (by international agencies) that this period could vary between two and 14 days,” she said.
Dr Jamali, however, made it clear that the JPMC was not meant for ‘quarantine purposes’. “We are preparing to take care of patients that have fallen ill and not those who have no signs and symptoms. Such patients are quarantined and the government has a facility for this purpose at the airport.”
Speaking to Dawn, medical experts said though the new virus could easily spread and there was a genuine global concern, there was no need to panic and create scare as a number of people had recovered from the infection in China.
“It’s a similar situation when dengue had its first outbreak. The number of people it infected was much larger than the patients dying of the infection,” explained Dr Naseem Salahuddin, adding that people with underlying health complications were more vulnerable to infection and death as compared to healthy people.
There was no specific treatment for viral influenza and the patient received symptomatic treatment, which worked in most cases, she said.
Asked if the government should shift the infected Pakistanis to the country, she said it’s better that they stayed in China. “The virus transmits very fast and we just don’t have the infrastructure to take care of a growing number of patients. There are only two public health facilities in the entire Karachi with isolation wards.”
Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020