Coronavirus Wuhan
This photo taken on January 30, 2020 shows officials in protective suits checking on an elderly man wearing a facemask who collapsed and died on a street near a hospital in Wuhan. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: From his dormitory in the locked-down Chinese city of Wuhan, PhD student Hassan spoke to his father in Pakistan for the last time on Thursday. The 80-year-old begged him to come home.

The next day, Hassan’s father died of a heart ailment.

Hassan is one of more than 1,000 Pakistani students in China’s Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus. Some say they have been told by their government that it has had to rule out their return home for the moment.

“They need me at this time, my mother needs me,” Hassan, a PhD computer architecture student, said. He asked to be identified only by one name to protect his family’s privacy.

Other Pakistani students in Hubei share Hassan’s concerns and some are critical of their government’s response to the crisis. Other countries, including neighbouring India and Bangladesh, evacuated citizens from Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, as the virus death toll rises.

The Pakistani students and their families, including young children, are stuck indoors most of the day. Four students said depression and anxiety were growing, their feelings worsened by fears of catching the virus and uncertainty as to how long the conditions would last.

“My very dear students in China ... we’re intensely discussing the situation @ highest level & will make the best decision in view of all factors with ref to devastating #coronavirus potential global pandemic,” State Health Minister Zafar Mirza said on Twitter on Sunday.

Hassan has contacted his university, who supported him leaving, and Pakistan’s embassy in Beijing. He said he was told by Chinese authorities in Hubei that he could be evacuated if Pakistan’s embassy in Beijing contacted them, but that had not occurred.

A Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that “for those countries that wish to take home their nationals, China will make relevant arrangements and offer necessary assistance consistent with international practices and our domestic epidemic control measures.” Hassan said he had been told by a Pakistani official on Monday that all students would be evacuated. But following a video conference call with Pakistan’s health and overseas citizens ministers, students in Wuhan said an imminent evacuation had been ruled out.

Pakistani officials had suggested Pakistan did not have the necessary quarantine facilities, some students said.

A spokesman for Mirza said in a statement the health minister had expressed concern on the call for the students’ welfare and Chinese rules meant no one could leave Hubei, but the situation was being monitored.

“After this call we don’t have any hope from our government that they will evacuate students,” said Sahil Hassan, another PhD student in Wuhan, who listened to the call. “We are all completely disappointed with our government.”