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Pakistan Stops Flights To, From China Amid Coronavirus Concerns

FILE - A worker walks at the departure area of the Islamabad International Airport, during a media tour.
FILE - A worker walks at the departure area of the Islamabad International Airport, during a media tour.

Pakistan Friday temporarily halted all flights to and from China, effective immediately, a day after it decided to delay the opening of a key border crossing with the neighboring country following the coronavirus outbreak there.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority said all flights “to and from China will remain suspended until February 2.” Abdul Sattar Khokar cited no reasons, saying the decision would effect 22 weekly flights.

Chinese health officials reported Friday the respiratory virus that originated in the city of Wuhan has killed about 200 people, and the number of cases topped 9,000. The virus has spread to 18 countries outside China, including South Korea, Japan, Australia, Canada and the U.S.

Pakistani officials say screening of travelers landing at national airports has already been tightened and emergency quarantine measures are in place but so far no confirmed coronavirus case has been reported from any part of the country.

Health officials in Islamabad, however, have confirmed four of the estimated 500 Pakistani students in Wuhan have been diagnosed with the disease and are undergoing treatment there. There are nearly 30,000 Pakistanis in China, mostly students.

China has recently invested billions of dollars in infrastructure development projects in Pakistan under Beijing’s global Belt and Road Initiative. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship element of the initiative, includes projects that have been completed or are under construction, including highways, power plants, a key Arabian Sea port and special economic zones in Pakistan, leading to a spike in the number of travelers between the two countries, including thousands of Chinese workers and engineers.

Khunjerab border post

The coronavirus outbreak in China has also prompted Islamabad to delay the annual opening of the only border crossing between the two countries, the Khunjerab Pass in northern Gilgit-Baltistan region.

"As for Khunjerab border the government of Gilgit Baltistan has rescheduled its opening. Now it will be opened in April" Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aisha Farooqui said on Thursday.

Under a longstanding bilateral understanding, Khunjerab - at more than 15,000 feet, the highest paved International border crossing in the world - is closed in November due to heavy snowfall and reopens around end of April.

However, this year Pakistani authorities had asked counterparts in China to open the border starting February 2 to allow the entry of scores of commercial containers that have been stranded on the Chinese side by the November closing.