Pakistan has alerted hospitals and clinics across the Country to the threat posed by the Wuhan Coronavirus, amid fears that the thousands of Chinese and Pakistani nationals who travel between the two Countries every month could help spread the disease.
A letter issued by Pakistan’s Health Ministry on Wednesday said that following a report by the China National Health Commission that the virus could be transmitted between people, it was directing the Disease Surveillance Division and Central Health Establishment to “monitor, direct and exercise the highest level of vigilance.”
The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has already killed 17 people in China and infected more than 541 and reports of it spreading to other Asian Countries have also begun to emerge.
Doctor Allah Bakhsh Malik, the Federal Secretary Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination department, said Pakistan was prepared to deal with the virus if needed.
“Hospitals and other departments have been put on standby to deal with the Coronavirus. So far, not a single case has been detected in Pakistan,” he said.
Thousands of Chinese nationals who are working on projects in various cities as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) regularly travel between the two countries, raising fears they could spread the disease. The CPEC project is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt & Road project.
Documents suggest that before 2013 there were 20,000 Chinese Expatriates living in Pakistan, but that figure had risen to 60,000 by 2018 in large part due to the Economic Corridor Project.
More than 400 Chinese Companies are currently involved in projects in Pakistan. On top of this, up to 500,000 Pakistani Students visit China Every Year, with 22,000 of them studying on scholarships.
Officials say Pakistani authorities have stepped up screenings at air and sea ports, checking people for symptoms of the disease.
New Islamabad International Airport, Lahore International Airport, Gwadar International Airport and Jinnah International Airport have all announced they will screen passengers arriving from China.
“Passengers will be screened and examined for symptoms of the coronavirus,” said a Civil Aviation Authority official.
Reports of the virus have led to unease among some Pakistanis working on CPEC.
“If the reports about the coronavirus are to be believed, people like me [who are working with Chinese nationals] in Pakistan will be more at risk of getting this disease. I’m worried,” said Iqbal Hussain, 38, a civil engineer working on the Multan-Sukkar section of the Karachi-Peshawar Motorway, a CPEC project.
Some Pakistanis working at Chinese restaurants and franchises of Chinese companies also said they were worried.
“Our Chinese National supervisors frequently travel between Pakistan, China & the Middle East and many of our Chinese Colleagues have travelled to China on vacation,” said an Electrical Engineer working in Huawei’s Islamabad Office.
“God forbid they encounter the coronavirus & transmit it to Pakistan.”