Benches have been removed from the concourse areas in Islamabad International Airport. — White Star
Benches have been removed from the concourse areas in Islamabad International Airport. — White Star

RAWALPINDI: All the benches in concourse areas at major airports across the country were removed on Monday to discourage visitors from gathering and halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Two Airport Security Force (ASF) officials were also moved to an Islamabad hospital on Monday with high fever, two days after a Federal Investigation Agency immigration official was taken to a hospital with fever.

A senior airport official said: “It is up to the doctors who will examine the ASF personnel whether they should be allowed to go home or kept in isolation.”

The Aviation Division has directed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to take immediate action to restrict the entry of people receiving passengers inside airports and to stop them on their outer perimeters.

A statement issued by the division spokesperson said no one would be allowed at domestic and international arrival lounges. Drivers have been restricted to car parks and women and children will not be allowed in the concourse hall either.

In response to the division’s directives, the CAA has removed all seating from concourse halls at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Quetta International Airport, Islamabad International Airport (IIA), Multan International Airport, Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, Faisalabad Airport and Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar.

Aviation Joint Secretary Abdul Sattar Khokhar confirmed that the benches were removed from concourse halls to avoid public gatherings.

All Aviation Division staff have also been screened for fever and their offices were fumigated.

Airport security, customs and immigration officials have been wearing masks and all international passengers arriving at airports are being scanned by health authorities.

The CAA has asked the public to avoid visiting airports unnecessarily to drop off or receive passengers. Only one person may accompany a passenger.

IIA, and the airports in Lahore and Karachi have been dealing with additional flights in the wake of a National Security Council directive restricting flight operations to these three airports.

Health experts have said that waiting in crowded terminals, especially airports, could lead to people contracting the virus.

According to sources, the government is considering reversing the decision to restrict international flights to three major airports as health facilities used to screen passengers for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms are also available in Peshawar and at other airports.

Restricting flight operations has led to a change in flight schedules to avoid crowds and inconvenience to passengers who are travelling somewhere other than Islamabad, but travellers are still facing difficulty reaching their destinations after landing at IIA.

When asked if the authorities are considering reversing the restriction of international flights to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, Mr Khokhar said that airport authorities were managing the additional load of passengers because the decision was taken by the NSC.

He said the Lahore airport had been facing an additional load of passengers and people living in other parts of Punjab have to travel from Lahore, which is problematic for them. The situation in Karachi and Islamabad is the same because of the suspension of flights to Quetta and Peshawar, he said.

“However, we are managing it to avoid inconveniencing travellers,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2020

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