ISLAMABAD: Prime Min­ister Imran Khan on Thursday called Chinese Pre­sident Xi Jinping to exp­ress solidarity with China in its fight against novel coronavirus epidemic that has so far claimed over 2,000 lives.

“Prime Minister conve­yed his heartfelt condolen­ces over the precious lives lost due to the outbreak of the virus. He praised the relentless efforts undertaken by China for containing and controlling coronavirus and underscored that the people and the government of Pakistan stood firmly behind China in its decisive efforts to fight and eliminate the virus,” a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office quoted Mr Khan as telling to the Chinese president in a telephonic conversation.

Mr Khan called President Xi as China reached out to Asean countries for coordinating the fight against coronavirus.

Meanwhile, there has been criticism of China in the West as well.

China has made progress in combating virus with a drop in new and confirmed cases, but challenges in the fight persist.

Mr Khan, while talking to President Xi, repeated the offer to send a fully equipped field hospital along with a team of doctors to help China deal with the situation.

Pakistan has, meanwhile, provided emergency supplies, including masks, protective clothing and gloves to China during the crisis.

Nearly 1,000 Pakistani students are studying in the most affected part of China, but the Pakistan government refused to bring them back, despite pressure from their parents, for expressing confidence in the ability of the Chinese government to deal with the situation.

Chinese authorities have set up 11 makeshift hospitals and over 400 medical quarantine sites, with a total of 70,000 hospital beds in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the epidemic.

President Xi thanked Pakistan for its support at the critical time.

The prime minister thanked the Chinese leader for “special measures” taken to look after Pakistani nationals in China. He hoped that China will continue to take best possible measures for the welfare of Pakistani nationals and students in China.

Seven Pakistani students studying in China were affected by the virus out of which six have fully recovered. A total of 29 foreign nationals in China were infected with the virus.

The PM Office quoted President Xi as saying that China was treating Pakistani students “as our own” and will spare no effort in ensuring their safety, health and well-being.

Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Mr Yao Jing, while speaking at a seminar at Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, said China appreciates the support and solidarity expressed by the people and government of Pakistan in combating the coronavirus outbreak.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020