Opposition lawmakers, during a Senate session on Friday, slammed the government's decision to not repatriate Pakistani citizens stranded in China due to larger public interest in the wake of a global novel coronavirus outbreak.
On Thursday, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza had announced that the government had decided not to repatriate Pakistani citizens stranded in China in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.
"We believe that right now, it is in the interest of our loved ones in China [to stay there]. It is in the larger interest of the region, world, country that we don't evacuate them now," he had told reporters at a press conference in Islamabad.
During a heated debate, the opposition called for bringing back Pakistani students stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, and for establishing a temporary quarantine to contain a possible outbreak in the country.
Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party's Senator Usman Kakar said that a dangerous situation has emerged due to the spread of coronavirus. Referring to Wuhan, he said: "There is a curfew-like situation in the city."
He added that the PM's aide was of the opinion that the Pakistani students currently stranded in China should not be repatriated. "Chinese people are coming to Pakistan but our own citizens are not being brought back," he alleged.
He urged the government to bring back the citizens and to isolate them in a particular area. "We have been unable to treat tuberculosis, polio and measles, so treating coronavirus is out of the question," he said.
Meanwhile, PML-N parliamentary leader Mushahidullah Khan called coronavirus an "epidemic and a global catastrophe".
"The foreign minister and the health ministry need to take action immediately [in this regard]. There is a Pakistani embassy in China but nobody there seems to be active," he claimed.
Criticising the government's decision, he added that other countries were also evacuating their citizens from China.
"So far we have not adopted any precautionary measures. Whenever there is a problem, they just try to get rid of it. Their [students in China] mothers are crying and we have abandoned them," he added.
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq stated that "coronavirus is now a global health emergency".
"China has no hand in the current health crisis. They themselves have been been affected by this virus. Only time will tell how far this virus has spread.
PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz also sided with the views of the opposition and stated that students which show no signs of the virus should be allowed to enter the country while those that are sick should be quarantined.
However, PTI Senator Seemi Ezdi explained that it was in the best interest of the Pakistanis in China to stay there.
"They have better access to health facilities and are also trying to come up with a treatment for the virus. We cannot treat this virus. The government's decision is in the best interest of the Pakistani citizens."
Senator Sherry Rehman maintained that Pakistan has expressed solidarity with the Chinese government, but urged the government to take precautionary steps.
"Protecting their citizens is the prime responsibility of any country. The government should order kits for diagnosing coronavirus as the screening at airports is not helping us to diagnose cases," she said,
Leader of the House Syed Shibli Faraz revealed that $840 have been transferred to the accounts of each student in China. The government is in contact with the Chinese government and is constantly monitoring the situation, he added.
Giving a ruling, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani said that China has assisted Pakistan through thick and thin. "We should encourage China during this difficult time."
He added that if Pakistani doctors wish to go to China to assist in efforts to tackle coronavirus, they should contact the Senate Health Committee.