With the outbreak of the Wuhan corona virus (COVID-19) showing no sign of slowing down, hundreds of Pakistani students trapped at the centre of the contagion have pleaded with their government to help them out.
Prime Minister Imran Khan have been criticised for refusing to bring back the more than 800 students who have been trapped in the city since it was locked down by Chinese authorities in an attempt to contain the outbreak.
Rehan Rasheed, who has been studying medicine in Wuhan since 2015 said five Pakistani students studying at Wuhan’s university of science and technology have contracted the virus.
“We are not being evacuated and we are not being supported,” said Rasheed, speaking on the phone from China. “We are all very scared, this is a terrible situation. We have been imprisoned in a hostel room for more than 20 days. For the past three days we have not been allowed to leave at all, even for food, and are surrounded by fear.”
The students have witnessed their counterparts from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the US, UK and other countries board evacuation flights provided by their governments. Officials in the Pakistan government urged the group to “remain calm”.
Pakistan has close ties to China and government figures have repeatedly congratulated the Chinese government for their handling of the outbreak.
The refusal to evacuate the students back to Pakistan is also thought to be due to fears that the country does not have the medical facilities or capabilities to safely quarantine the returnees or handle a coronavirus outbreak on Pakistani soil.
Pakistan has a poor record of handling disease outbreaks and is one of only two countries in the world which has failed to eliminate polio.
Imran Khan said in a tweet: “I have issued instructions to our Foreign Office and Overseas Ministry to do everything possible for our students who are stuck in Wuhan city.”
By Thursday, the number of people in China who had died from coronavirus had risen to 1,368 and the number infected is 59,805.
Rasheen added: “It is clear that our government don’t want to take us out from this situation. We met with people from the Wuhan authorities and they told us they have no problem with us leaving but that ‘your government is not willing to accept you or to receive you back home’.
‘‘It is mental torture here every morning. We appreciate what Chinese authorities are doing but they are not sure we will survive this, so we are asking our state to help us. Please evacuate us.”
His plea was echoed by Amjad Hussain, a PhD student at China University of Geoscience, who has been studying in Wuhan for three years. “There is panic here,” said Hussain. “Definitely there is anger among students against Pakistani state for doing nothing. We just want to know why is Pakistan not helping us and evacuating us. I want to go back home and want my country to help.”
The anger and pain was also felt by the students’ relatives back in Pakistan. Abdul Rasheed Baloch, Rasheed’s father, who lives in the Balochistan region of Pakistan, said: “I’m more than concerned. I feel like I have no soul. My heart and mind is there, with my son.”
Baloch said he was speaking to his son daily to keep the hope alive. “Talking to him every day keeps me going or else I feel I’m dead,” he added. “There is no help from the government of Pakistan. Nothing at all.” (Source: The Guardian)