- Pakistan needs to be careful
The coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan has not yet been declared a worldwide epidemic, but Pakistan needs to take the issue much more seriously than it has so far. It is not only that Pakistanis in Wuhan are at risk, but there is the danger of the epidemic spreading in Pakistan now that there are four cases suspected in Multan and Lahore. The chances of students coming to Pakistan from China is remote now that the winter holidays are over, and term has resumed, but the Beijing Embassy says there are about 1500 traders who come and go from China. There are also 800 resident traders, and around 28,000 students in the whole of China, of which 500 are enrolled in institutions in Wuhan. If any hostels are vacated in Wuhan, Pakistani students’ first option will be to return home.
Another problem is the incubation period. While patients suffering from the disease are also carriers, and can be isolated at their port of entry, someone who has been infected may be travelling but without any symptoms that can be detected. Such an apparently healthy person may travel far indeed (even to Multan) before coming down with the disease. At that point, he will start infecting everyone with whom he comes into contact. Pakistan also has to keep in mind that it has more than one point of entry. There are the ports at Karachi and Gwadar, where passengers may not land, but will be visited by the crews of cargo ships. Further, there is the land route across the Khunjerab Pass.
Quarantine arrangements must be made at all points, and healthy passengers arriving from China may need to be isolated from the general population for the incubation period. That period has not yet been determined, so the outside estimate should be used until there is a firm medical determination. It is unfortunate that the disease, which attacks the respiratory tract, is arriving at a time of great vulnerability, the depths of winter, but it would be better to take stringent measures, rather than risk another plague from China, like that of 1855, which killed 12 million people. That was the bubonic plague, which also affects the respiratory tract in its later stages.