Virus-induced restriction on international flights takes effect

Updated March 15, 2020

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Policemen wearing facemasks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, search a car at the capital entry checkpoint in Islamabad on March 14. — AFP
Policemen wearing facemasks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, search a car at the capital entry checkpoint in Islamabad on March 14. — AFP

RAWALPINDI: International flight operations will remain operational from only three airports in the country to discourage the spread of the new coronavirus, said the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Saturday.

Following the National Security Committee’s (NSC) decision on Friday to cut down international flight operations, the CAA issued a NOTAM (notice to airmen) to all international and national airlines that international flight operations were now limited to Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

“The government of Pakistan and Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority are taking all possible measures to help the national cause for the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 in this emergent national circumstance,” the CAA said.

“Concrete measures have been put in place across all airports in Pakistan and standard operating procedures [SOP] have been strengthened to deal with the issue,” it added.

Domestic flights operation to continue at all airports

The notice further said that international flight operation would remain suspended at five major airports that include Peshawar, Faisalabad, Quetta, Sialkot and Multan.

But domestic flights would continue. “Domestic flight will, however, remain operational at all airports across the country,” the CAA said.

PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said in the wake of the NSC decision, PIA will operate international flights only from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Pakistan’s tally of COVID-19 cases rose to 30 on Saturday. It reported its first confirmed case on Feb 26.

The National Security Committee, which is the highest forum for coordination on security issues, at its first ever meeting on a health crisis, held on Friday, decided to seal borders with Iran and Afghanistan, restrict international operations of airlines to three airports, shut down educational institutions, cinemas and marriage halls and advised adjournment of civil cases in courts and change in hearing procedures for criminal cases to curb the spread of COVID-19 within the country.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild symptoms, such as fever and cough. For older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Request to S. Arabia

Pakistani authorities have also requested Saudi authorities to extend the time limit of some categories of passengers for returning to the Kingdom, said the CAA on Saturday.

Following the order of the Saudi authorities effective March 12, 2020 at 15:29 hours KSA standard time for the suspension on the entry of certain types of passengers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after a time limit of 72 hours, Pakistani and Saudi airlines have planned flight operations for the transportation of passengers to and from Saudi Arabia, added the CAA

“Considering our request to the General Authority of Civil Aviation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia vide our letter dated March 13, 2020, and the requests of airline operators from both States to extend the time limit for another 72 hours till March 18, 2020, the Saudi authorities may consider the request favourably,” the CAA said.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2020