Pak passengers
Stranded Pakistanis in Muscat travelling back home on a special flight. Healthy passengers will not be tested for COVID-19 at the airports. Image Credit:

Dubai: Healthy stranded overseas Pakistanis who are flying back home will no longer have to undergo a mandatory COVID-19 test at the airports across the country, said a top official.

The decision has been taken to expedite repatriation process of Pakistanis stranded abroad especially in the Gulf countries. “Soon after landing in Pakistan, only symptomatic passengers will be tested and if found positive, they will be quarantined at the facilities provided by the government,” said Dr Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to Prime Minister of National Security and Strategic Policy. However, all passengers will have to go through thermal scanners and those showing no sysmptoms will be allowed to go home.

Flights

Police changed

Yusuf told media that coronavirus testing policy for international passengers has been changed in consultation with provinces. “Healthy passengers will not be tested for coronavirus at the airports. They will be allowed to go home after they give undertaking that they will have to self-quarantine for 14 days,” he added. The provinces through the track and trace system will keep checking the passengers and those found in violation of quarantine will be penalised in accordance with law.

Expedite repatriation

The new policy will help the government repatriate around 40,000 to 45,000 Pakistanis stranded abroad every week. In May and June, around 4000, 4500 Pakistanis were allowed to return every week due to limited quarantine facilities.

He also dispelled the impression that Pakistanis returning to the country were responsible for transmission of Covid-19 in the country. “Only 3% Pakistanis brought the virus to the country whereas the remaining 97% cases are locally transmitted,” he revealed.

Pakistan opened its airspace with 25 per cent capacity on June 21 allowing all international airlines to operate regular flights to and from Pakistan.

Confusion prevails

However, confusion still prevails about resuming the regular flights as no international airline has so far announced the flight schedule to Pakistan. Even the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which was supposed to offer tickets for repatriation flights online, has not yet opened its reservation. The PIA even added to the miseries of the stranded Pakistanis in the UAE by increasing the fare from Dh1120 to Dh1470 for economy class from Dubai to Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad and Peshawar. Pakistan had suspended international flights on March 21 to stem the spread of coronavirus pandemic.

80,000 repatriated

According to the statistics released by the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, some 80,000 Pakistanis and 600 dead bodies have so far been brought back to the country. He said all returning Pakistanis should follow the standard operation procedure (SOPs) put in place to stem the spread of coronavirus pandemic. He said the government is well aware of the problems being faced by the overseas Pakistanis and is working effectively to address their problems.

The GCC countries remained the focus for the government where a large number of expats were still stuck due to limited number of flights operated by Pakistan.

Some 25,514 out of total 82,000 registered stranded Pakistanis have so far been repatriated from the UAE, followed by Saudi Arabia from where 8,740 brought back to the country.