ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) announced an immediate ban on flights between China and Pakistan Wednesday afternoon, sparking concern among travellers, before rescinding the statement an hour later.
A number of people who were planning to travel to China or were expecting loved ones to return from there in the coming days were initially left asking how they would travel between the two countries.
However, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on NHS Dr Zafar Mirza announced later that flight operations to China would not be halted.
The NHS ministry’s media coordinator circulated a statement on the messaging platform WhatsApp at 1:30pm on Wednesday stating that the government had taken a decision to protect Pakistanis from the novel coronavirus.
“All the flights from China to Pakistan have been banned. Moreover all the flights from Pakistan to China are also banned,” Dr Mirza was quoted as saying in the statement.
NHS Secretary Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik was also quoted as saying that concrete steps were being taken to protect the country from novel coronavirus.
“The decision has been taken in the best interest of the nation,” Dr Malik said.
But Dr Mirza told Dawn that Pakistan has not halted flight operations with China.
“The message was based on misconception and flight operations will not be stopped,” he said.
Media coordinator Sajid Shah told Dawn that he was sent the message after a meeting regarding novel coronavirus to be shared with the press.
“I shared it with the media but later learned that a participant who composed the message had misunderstood and sent it to me,” he explained.
At 2:40pm, the ministry circulated another message on WhatsApp stating that Dr Mirza denied “the news” regarding the suspension of flight operations with China.
“So far no such decision has been taken and flight operations will not be stopped,” the ministry said.
Pims patient tests negative for coronavirus
A Chinese national admitted to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) on Tuesday has tested negative for novel coronavirus.
Pims media coordinator Dr Waseem Khawaja said that samples from the patient were sent to the National Institute of Health (NIH) on Tuesday.
“On Wednesday we received the report from NIH that the patient was not positive for novel coronavirus. However, the incubation period of the virus is around 14 days so the patient could be kept in isolation for a few more days or up to 14 days,” he said.
The NIH has received 25 samples from all over the country, all of which have tested negative for novel coronavirus, an NIH official told Dawn.
Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2020