Hundreds of Pakistanis are flooding into hospitals in Karachi with flu-like symptoms asking to be tested for Chinese coronavirus, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported on Wednesday.
According to the report, health officials, doctors, and journalists visiting Karachi hospitals are concerned over a shortage of testing kits and medical equipment, such as protective gear, to treat the country’s surging number of Chinese coronavirus cases, at press time 256.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan urged calm late Tuesday in an address to the nation.
“There is no need to worry. We will fight this as a nation. And God-willing, we will win this war,” Khan said. Khan also discouraged unnecessary testing for Chinese coronavirus, as the nation struggles with a shortage of testing kits: “Only those with intense symptoms should go to the hospital.”
Pakistan’s shortage of testing kits has led to a growing dispute between federal and provincial authorities. Local authorities blame the federal government not only for failure to provide sufficient Chinese coronavirus testing kits to the provinces but also for its responsibility in causing the surge in cases and need for more testing kits in the first place. Provincial authorities have criticized the federal government for failing to properly test and quarantine thousands of Pakistanis who recently returned to the country across a land border with Iran, the majority of whom were Muslim pilgrims visiting Islamic shrines in Iran.
Some reports indicate that, despite the knowledge that closing its border with Iran would help stop the spread of Chinese coronavirus into Pakistan, the nation hesitated to close its border initially, fearing the negative impact such an action would have on Iran’s already dire economic circumstance. Close economic partners, Pakistan and Iran recently reaffirmed their trade ties at a joint border commission meeting in January.
Pakistan’s delayed response to the Chinese coronavirus echoes the late reactions by Iran, Italy, and South Korea, all of whom were reluctant to cut ties with China due to close economic and political relationships.
Pakistan also benefits from its relationship with China, as evidenced Tuesday at a meeting between the leaders of the two nations. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping and Pakistani President Arif Alvi met on Tuesday in Beijing to solidify their political and economic commitments to one another. The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, reported Tuesday that Xi promised to aid Pakistan in its fight against the Wuhan coronavirus, pledging 300,000 face masks and 10,000 protective suits.
Confoundingly, Alvi offered Wuhan coronavirus aid to China in return, despite the current frustration in his country at the shortage of medical supplies for his own people. The gesture recalled a similar move by South Korean President Moon Jae-in this year, in which he offered $5 million in Wuhan coronavirus aid to China, despite the need for the aid in his own country.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Alvi and Jinping also signed two memorandums of understanding (MoU), one establishing joint technology and agriculture working groups in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Joint Cooperation Committee, and another on strengthening cooperation on pest and disease control between the two countries. The MoUs stem directly from Pakistan’s alignment with China as a member of its Belt and Road Initiative to consolidate power in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
In a statement at the meeting, Xi said, “No matter how the international situation changes, China will always stand firmly with Pakistan, and is committed to deepening the ironclad China-Pakistan friendship, so as to make China-Pakistan relations a model for building a community with a shared future for humanity, and better benefit the two peoples.”