Pakistan masks
An activist of Sweet Sixteen group offering a mask to a traffic warden at the Mall Road in Lahore on Wednesday. Pakistan has imposed harsh travel restrictions for passengers travelling to the country to prevent coronavirus spread. Image Credit: Online

Dubai: Pakistani expatriates and airlines have objected to the new ‘harsh’ restrictions on passengers travelling to any airport in the country.

Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan on Tuesday said that entry within Pakistan territorial limits would not be allowed without an authentic COVID-19 negative test result. It means that all passengers, including Pakistani expatriates, will have to get a COVID-19 test result certificate before they travel to Pakistan.

The restriction will be in place with effect from March 21 to April 4. The circular to airlines say that the airlines must check the COVID-19 test certificate before any passenger is allowed to board a flight to Pakistan. Passengers arriving in Pakistan without the COVID-19 test certificate will be deported at the expense of the airline they travelled on. He said that the test result must include the name and passport number of the passenger. Original test results would be required upon arrival at any airport in Pakistan.

Sudden rise in coronavirus cases

The travel restrictions were announced due to a sudden surge of coronavirus cases in Pakistan. The confirmed number of coronavirus cases crossed 250 on Wednesday after new cases emerged in Sindh, Islamabad and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Reaction from airlines and passengers

Pakistani airlines offices and Pakistani missions in the UAE were swarmed with people protesting against the new travel restriction. “This is not a rational decision as no hospital or clinic tests a healthy person for COVID-19,” said Dr Faisal Ikram, President of Pakistan Association in Dubai. He said that circumstances are extra-ordinary but the government should install scanners at the airports just like any other country.

Airlines in trouble

“We have seen huge rush in our office today as people want to change their travel dates before the restrictions are in place,” Abbas Raza Dar, Senior Manager Airblue, a private airline of Pakistan. Dar said that airlines are grappling to sort out the situation as thousands of passengers travel to various destinations in Pakistan from the UAE. More than 1.6 million Pakistani expatriates live in the UAE.

A similar crisis like situation is being faced by Pakistanis in other Gulf countries and elsewhere in the world. Officials of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in the UAE also held a meeting with Pakistan Ambassador Ghulam Dastgir to discuss the situation.

Pakistan Embassy in talks

Speaking to Gulf News, Ambassador Dastgir said that people should understand that the government has taken the decision in exceptional circumstances. “Airlines representatives and community members have approached the embassy seeking solution to the problem they are facing,” he said, adding that he has sent its recommendations to the government based on the reservations of people and airlines here. “We have requested the government to review the restrictions,” he said.

No COVID-19 test for a healty person

A private hospital doctor told Gulf News that certain protocol is followed to conduct a COVID-19 test on any person.

In the UAE, the test is done in governmental hospital laboratory and the role of the private sector is to collect the sample and isolate the suspected case. The test is currently done only for patients who have symptoms as defined by health authority guidelines.

The patient should first meet the criteria of being suspected case which means that he should have respiratory symptoms with or without fever and history of travel from one of the listed countries. Tests are not done on a healthy person.

Pakistan records rise in cases

Sindh province has been the worst-hit with 181 confirmed COVID-19 cases followed by Punjab 26, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 19 cases, Islamabad eight, Balochistan 16 and Gilgit-Baltistan with three cases. Majority of Pakistan’s COVID-19 cases are linked to the pilgrims at Taftan while less than half a dozen are locally transmitted.

Authorities in Pakistan have screened more than 1,015,900 travellers since the virus was first detected in the country. At least 20,088 travellers have been screened in the last 24 hours, reported Express Tribune.

On March 18, four new cases emerged in Islamabad while Sindh province confirmed nine new cases in and three new cases were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province while the total confirmed cases across Pakistan on Wednesday rose to 250.