Islamabad: Airlines in Pakistan resumed flights to and from China Monday after health authorities said they were confident they had systems in place to keep the deadly coronavirus out of the country.
The move comes as dozens of global airlines are halting flight services with China, and governments are increasingly barring entry to anyone who has recently visited the country.
China has long been an all-weather ally of Pakistan and in recent years has provided Islamabad with billions of dollars in loans as part of Beijing’s global Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
Some 28,000 to 30,000 Pakistanis are living in China, and more than 500 nationals are believed to be in Wuhan, where the virus originated.
“Flight operations with China have resumed,” Zafar Mirza, a public health advisor to Prime Minister Imran Khan, told reporters Monday.
“I personally received passengers from China this morning. I checked the whole system step by step and we have not seen any suspected patients that needed to be kept under observation,” he added.
The decision was questioned by medical experts in the country, where investment in health care has been woefully lacking for decades.
“Pakistan is not capable of treating the coronavirus,” said Athar Niaz Rana, a senior medical practitioner at Islamabad’s Shifa International Hospitals.
“We don’t have any facility to properly test suspected cases,” he told AFP.
So far there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Pakistan, but four students living in Wuhan have been infected.
There are currently more than two dozen weekly flights between Pakistan and China, civil aviation authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Khokhar said.
Prime Minister Khan has visited China three times since taking office in 2018, and has repeatedly refused to criticise Beijing when asked about the country’s treatment of its Muslim minorities.