The government’s decision to not bring back Pakistani students stranded in China is unpopular among opposition parties and the general public alike, but it is important to realise that this choice was undoubtedly one that was not easy. The robust discussion during the Senate session tells us that opposition leaders will not let the government or the people forget this issue anytime soon; if anything were to happen to any of the stranded students, the government can expect even more flak than it is currently receiving.

This is quite naturally an issue which stirs up emotions, not just for the families of the students but every other Pakistani as well. However, any decision that can potentially affect millions – both within and outside Pakistan – must be weighed against any potential negative consequences. There are too many risks associated with bringing the students back from Wuhan; unleashing a potentially terrible outbreak of disease will not only threaten their lives, but those of their families and everyone else they come into contact with.

The Chinese authorities and the World Health Organisation also agree with this assessment. It is important to follow the principles of a quarantine in the case of this virus; anyone exposed to the same environment as that of the outbreak must be kept separated from healthy individuals across the world. Scientists are still not completely in agreement as to the cause of this virus – there are too many unknowns currently in play, which makes bringing the students back even more difficult.

The Pakistanis currently in Wuhan are naturally facing difficult circumstances, in terms of financial needs and access to services in a city under lockdown. This is something that the government can combat. All Pakistanis under quarantine must have access to government functionaries so that they can explain the situation and the state must provide all that is needed without delay. Other countries are doing the same.

The students currently in stuck in China have reported that the diplomatic staff has not been altogether helpful and has failed to provide any information regarding the government’s decisions. Our foreign functionaries must do better; their responsibility is to serve Pakistanis internationally and treating students with indifference in this matter is unforgivable.

Our geographical proximity to China and the consistent flow of trade already places us under greater threat than average. There are still precautions that the government must take on dry ports and border crossings such as screening any traffic coming in from the areas that have been affected the worst. It is hoped that the government’s steadfast approach in the matter of keeping the Wuhan students isolated also extends to other preventative measures.