Islamabad: Pakistan has imposed air travel restrictions from seven countries in response to the new COVID-19 variant called Omicron.
Flights from six African countries South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini has been immediately banned. Pakistan has also announced flight restrictions from Hong Kong, according to National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), leading the country’s pandemic response.
Minister Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, shared the travel restrictions news on Twitter, urging Pakistanis to get vaccinated soon. “The emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older,” he said. The country has so far administered 120 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines with nearly 50 million Pakistanis fully vaccinated.
The new policy currently applies to non-residents. Stranded Pakistanis would be allowed to travel back home from these countries till December 5 with strict health protocols in place. Those Pakistani passengers facing extreme emergency situation “will be allowed to enter from the restricted countries after obtaining exemptions and following COVID-19 testing protocols”, NCOC said.
These requirements include vaccination certificate, negative PCR report within 72 hours of departure, and RAT (rapid antigen test) report on arrival at the airport. Those with negative RAT reports would have to undergo 3 days of mandatory home quarantine and another test on the third day. There will be a 10-day mandatory quarantine at a government or self-paid facility for those with positive test reports.
Meanwhile, the aviation division and airports across the country have been asked to devise a mechanism for screening passengers travelling from the seven restricted countries via indirect flights.
The discovery of the new coronavirus variant has alerted health officials around the world as countries are racing to halt air travel. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the Omicron as a highly transmissible variant of concern. The strain which was first detected in South Africa last week has a high number of mutations. Scientists say it would require a few weeks to understand the effects of Omicron and determine the effectiveness of vaccines. However, vaccine manufacturers have expressed confidence that they will be able to adapt their shots rapidly against the Omicron variant.