Amid COVID dip, Pakistan to ease some flight restrictions

Curbs on flights from several countries, including all European nations, Canada and China, to be lifted from July 1.

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passenger plane arrives at the Benazir International airport in Islamabad, Pakistan, December 2, 2015. Employees of Pakistan''s ailing
A Pakistan International Airlines passenger plane arrives at the Benazir International Airport in Islamabad [File: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters]

With active cases of the coronavirus continuing to drop in Pakistan, authorities say they have decided to ease incoming flight restrictions from several countries, including all the European countries, Canada, China and Malaysia.

Direct flights from these countries will be allowed to operate at 40 percent of their full schedule of flights, a government document said, with the new regulations coming into effect on July 1.

On Monday, government data showed that Pakistan had registered 914 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, with a test positivity rate of 2.05 percent.

At least 20 people are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 on Sunday, the data showed.

The numbers represent a drastic drop from the peak of the country’s third wave of the virus in late April, when daily case rises were hitting almost 6,000 cases, with a record daily death toll of 201 registered on April 27, the data shows.

The new incoming flight regulations will also ease restrictions on incoming passengers, allowing those who test negative on rapid antigen tests on arrival at the airport to avoid quarantine.

Those who test positive on arrival will still be subject to quarantine, says the document issued by the country’s National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which is overseeing the government’s response to the pandemic.

On Thursday, Pakistani Planning Minister Asad Umar, who chairs the NCOC, warned citizens that the government’s artificial intelligence (AI) models on the spread of the virus suggested a fourth wave could hit as soon as July.

“In the absence of strong [standard operating procedure] enforcement and continued strong vaccination program, the fourth wave could emerge in Pakistan in July,” he said.

While the Pakistani government has continued to ease restrictions on public gatherings in the wake of dropping cases, restrictions on flights have remained high, with many passengers facing last-minute flight cancellations based on the current regulations.

As per the current policy, airline operators are allowed to operate 20 percent of scheduled flights, regardless of their point of origin.

The July 1 easing will allow this number to rise to 40 percent of scheduled flights from certain points of origin, although notably absent from that list are the Gulf Arab states, through which much of Pakistan’s international air traffic is routed.

Source: Al Jazeera