February 19, 2020 / 1:39 PM / a month ago

Parents of Pakistan students in China virus epicentre vent anger at ministers

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Angry parents of Pakistani students stuck in the locked down province at the centre of China’s coronavirus outbreak confronted government ministers at a meeting on Wednesday, demanding their children are evacuated.

Pakistan's Health Minister, Zafar Mirza (R), interacts with the mother of a Pakistani student, who is stuck in the locked down Hubei province at the center of China's coronavirus outbreak, as people demand evacuation of their children during a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir

Pakistan has so far ruled out bringing home the more than 1,000 students in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, where three-quarters of the more than 2,000 deaths from the outbreak of the flu-like virus have been recorded.

Health Minister Zafar Mirza and Minister for Overseas Citizens Zulfiqar Bukhari briefed parents for the first time on Wednesday, telling them the students’ welfare was better off in China and Pakistan did not have adequate facilities to quarantine them if they returned.

But hundreds interrupted the briefing, with some seizing microphones to say they did not want to listen to officials until their children were returned and dozens flooding the stage to crowd around the ministers.

“Bring our kids back, they have been in lockdown for 25 days...they are not getting any support...from you,” one family member who took the microphone said.

Health minister Mirza said he would convey the parents’ anger at a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Pakistan has said its embassy in Beijing is supporting students and a two-person team travelled to Wuhan this week to meet students and gather more information about their situation.

The overseas citizens minister and a spokesman for the health minister did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

More than 400 parents travelled from around the country to attend the meeting at a school in Islamabad and around 100 protested with placards outside after the meeting, blocking a nearby road. Protests in the larger cities of Lahore and Karachi were held last week.

Many students and their families have expressed growing frustration as the death toll in China mounts, pointing to other countries, including neighbouring India and Bangladesh, evacuating their citizens.

Muhammad Wasim Akram, whose wife is a fourth year medical student in the city of Shiyan in Hubei, said he had travelled five hours to the meeting but was left disappointed.

“I travelled from Lahore to attend this nonsense. I feel nothing (has been done)...shame on the government,” he told Reuters, adding students’ mental health was eroding after being stuck inside for weeks, while their access to food and bottled water was limited.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Alex Richardson

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