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Coronavirus sets off scare through Gilgit-Baltistan

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Chinese vendors wear protective masks as they sell vegetables in the street during the lunar new year holiday, Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Over 500 students stuck in Wuhan plead for evacuation; Gilgit asks Islamabad to delay reopening of Sost border

HAH Report

The outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan province of China has panicked people around the world especially in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), as a large number of students are currently studying in various Chinese universities and institutes.

According to media reports, 82 people are dead and more than 2,700 cases have been confirmed in mainland China, as the Wuhan coronavirus continues to spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world. Nearly 60 million people have been affected by partial or full lockdowns in Chinese cities as the country’s government steps up its response.

There are more than 50 confirmed cases in 13 places outside of mainland China, including four in Pakistan, reported CNN.

People can spread the virus before symptoms show, China’s health minister said Sunday, complicating efforts to contain the outbreak.

Wuhan county in China’s Hubei province is said to be the epicenter of the viral outbreak. Authorities believe the virus might have spread into the human population from an infected animal at a wet market in Wuhan, the city of 11 million which has been quarantined, halting all public transportation, including city buses, trains, and ferries.

Family members are concerned about the GB students as the region is geographical proximity with China. Although the border trade is suspended in winter, frequent movement of tourists and merchandise between Pakistan and China through Khunjerav, the only border crossing located in the region.

Islamabad assures Pakistani students of help in virus-stricken Wuhan County of Hubei Province of China.SCREENGRAB TWITTER Faysal Khurshid

Authorities in GB have stopped two shipping containers carrying goods from entering Pakistan through Khunjerav Pass while requesting the federal government to delay the reopening of the border crossing for trade as a precautionary measure.

Traders and tourists have to traverse the Khunjerav Pass, the highest paved border crossing in the world on the fabled Karakoram Highway at 4,800 metres (16,000 feet) above sea level, for transit between Pakistan and China.

“We have denied entry to two shipping containers which arrived at the border crossing from China after the outbreak of the mysterious coronavirus,” Shams Mir, a spokesperson for the G-B government, told The Express Tribune newspaper.

On an average 15 shipping containers loaded with goods cross into Pakistan every day, an official of Pakistan Customs said. Similarly, on average 10 passenger vehicles, including one bus of NATCO also cross the border daily.

Trade and travel through Khunjerav Pass remain suspended from November to February due to heavy snowfall on the Khunjerav Pass, but in special cases containers are allowed to enter Pakistan through this border crossing.

The spokesperson said authorities in the region fear that the mysterious virus could be transmitted through merchandise or even through air because G-B shares a border with China.

Meanwhile, the G-B government has directed the health department to put in place necessary safety protocols, including screening travellers coming from China, at the border crossing.

Mr Mir revealed that around 55 people are stuck in China as they are not allowed by the Chinese authorities to return to Pakistan following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

“Approximately 75 people from G-B were visiting Kashghar city in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. In the meantime, the mysterious virus broke out and the travellers stranded as Chinese authorities put in place mass quarantine measures,” he said.

“The G-B government contacted Chinese authorities to evacuate the stranded people, but only 20 of them have been allowed to return, while the rest are still stuck,” he added.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry sought to allay fears on Sunday, saying that over 500 students and other community members in Wuhan, and in other parts of China, are safe.

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