February 3, 2020 / 1:23 PM / 14 days ago

Pakistan resumes flights to and from China, screens passengers for virus

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan said on Monday it was resuming flights to and from China, three days after it suspended them because of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

A paramedic staff stands outside an isolation section, set up for the precautionary measures for the coronavirus patients treatment, at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) in Karachi, Pakistan February 3, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

The decision runs counter to many other airlines and governments which have tightened travel restrictions and suspended more flights in response to the fast-spreading virus which is thought to have originated in China’s Hubei province.

China and Pakistan are close allies, and mutual travel and investment has increased sharply in recent years.

“We are resuming flight operations with China,” additional secretary of aviation Abdul Sattar Khokhar told Reuters by text message, adding that a China Southern Airlines flight carrying 145 passengers would arrive in Islamabad later on Monday.

Chinese and Pakistani authorities said they were screening passengers, and 12 Chinese citizens who had flown into Pakistan would be traced and registered by the Chinese embassy.

“They are carefully scrutinised and monitored here,” China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, told a news conference with Pakistan’s health minister, Zafar Mirza.

Some Pakistani students are under lockdown in China’s Hubei province and want to be evacuated. Mirza has ruled out evacuating the students immediately, citing the risk of the virus spreading.

“We are really unhappy and students are very disappointed,” Muhammad Rauf, a Pakistani student in Wuhan told Reuters. “The situation is like a pressure cooker.”

Students and their families were becoming more anxious, unable to sleep and most were shut in their dormitories most of the day, he said.

Mirza said there had been seven suspected cases of people with coronavirus in Pakistan, but all have so far proven negative. Neighbouring India confirmed its third case of the coronavirus on Monday.

China said on Saturday its foreign minister, Wang Yi, had raised travel restrictions in a telephone call with Pakistan’s foreign minister.

The United States on Friday barred entry to the U.S. of foreign nationals who have recently visited China. Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam have also announced restrictions on travel from China, while numerous nations have been evacuating citizens.

Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Kim Coghill and Timothy Heritage

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