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China asks Pak to open border for medical supplies

Islamabad: China has asked Pakistan to open the border between the two countries for one day on Friday so that medical supplies to combat the novel coronavirus could be transported, a media report said.

The Khunjerab Pass is usually opened on April 1 which marks the end of winter in that part, but due to the global pandemic, the border between Pakistan and China has been closed for an indefinite period, the Dawn news report said.

Under a border protocol agreement of 1985, the Khunjerab border crossing remains closed from the end of November to April. Trade and travel activities between the two countries take place through Khunjerab Pass, also known as Sust Dry Port – the only land route between China and Pakistan.

A letter, written by the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with copies to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the government of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and the Ministry of National Health Services, states that the governor of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China would like to donate a batch of medical materials to GB.

According to the letter, the governor has donated 200,000 ordinary face masks, 2,000 N-95 masks, five ventilators, 2,000 testing kits and 2,000 medical protective clothes mainly used by doctors and paramedics.

The donation is in response to a request made by GB Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman to the governor of the Xinjiang region to combat coronavirus in the province.

“The materials are ready to be delivered to GB through Khunjerab Pass at 9 a.m. on March 27. Therefore, it is requested to temporarily open (border) the same date,” the Dawn news report quoted the letter as saying.

“In this regard, it is also highly recommended that the Pakistani side should agree and make due preparation before the date so that all materials could enter Pakistan smoothly,” it added.

Gilgit-Baltistan, which has a high percentage of coronavirus cases in the country compared to its population, has a negligible number of operational ventilators and remoteness leading to a severe shortage of medical equipment.

The federal government is yet to take a decision regarding this development.

As of Thursday, Pakistan has reported 1,098 confirmed coronavirus cases with eight deaths.