Despite strong criticism from the opposition, the government has decided to stay firm on its earlier decision against the repatriation of Pakistanis stuck in virus-hit China, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said on Saturday.
During a press conference, Dr Mirza said that so far, it had been confirmed that 11,947 people were affected with the coronavirus, out of which 249 had died. He added that till Thursday, the virus had been detected in 18 countries apart from China and now, after two days, cases of the virus have been detected in 27 countries.
"It is now being transferred from human to human. It means that a person affected with the virus can also become a source for the transfer of the virus.
"The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the situation an emergency of international concern. Being a responsible nation, Pakistan wants to take steps that ensure the safety of maximum people."
He said that the decision was finalised after a meeting between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, where the latter assured that taking care of Pakistani citizens was a priority for China's government.
On Thursday, SAPM Dr Mirza had announced that the government had decided not to evacuate Pakistanis from China, saying that such a step would be "against the larger interest" of the country.
"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.
"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."
The announcement was met with anger by the opposition, leading the government to assure the Senate on Friday that the decision to not repatriate Pakistanis from China was not final.
“It is not a definite decision and if the situation changes, we will evacuate the Pakistani students on its basis,” Leader of the House in the Senate Shibli Faraz had told the upper house of parliament.
In today's press conference, Dr Mirza declared that the decision of non-repatriation of Pakistani citizens from China was final, saying that the government had "complete trust" in Beijing's policies to combat the epidemic.
"I want to reiterate our trust [in China's policies]," he told reporters, adding that the government stood by Beijing.
"We care about our children more than anyone else, but we need to realise our responsibilities and take the right step. We don't want to copy others [...] For us, it is more important to take steps that ensure that maximum number of people are saved."
He assured once again that Islamabad was striving to ensure that the Pakistani citizens in China were being taken care of and had access to all facilities.
Giving an update on the status of the Pakistani students who had caught the coronavirus, Dr Mirza said that they had recovered as the disease was diagnosed at an early stage.
The SAPM said that those Pakistani citizens, who are stranded in China, will not be allowed to return until they have been quarantined for 14 days and are found to be free of the disease.
Dr Mirza said that a comprehensive plan had been devised to ensure that when flights from China to Pakistan are resumed, passengers are screened properly so that cases of the virus do not emerge in Pakistan.
"We are confident that if we are successful in implementing this plan — and there is no reason to believe that we won't [be able to implement it] — we will be able to keep Pakistanis safe from this virus."
He added that an awareness campaign will be initiated on electronic media to inform people about the origin, symptoms and ways of transfer of the coronavirus.