RAWALPINDI: As many as 37 passengers travelling to Toronto on visit visas were off-loaded from Pakistan International Airlines, as Canadian authorities had introduced temporary restrictions on non-residential travel to their country as part of their efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Spokesperson for PIA Abdullah Hafeez confirmed to Dawn that PIA had off-loaded 37 travelers from its Toronto flight on Wednesday.
He said only Canadian or the US nationals and diplomatic staff could enter Toronto. Therefore, all those holding visit visas could not be allowed to travel to Toronto.
He said Canada, Oman, UAE, and Malaysia had already imposed a ban on people entering into their countries on visit or business visas.
“From March 18, PIA will not take any passenger visiting Canada on visit visa,” the spokesman said adding the UAE had already stopped entry on paper visa while Oman had imposed a ban on all nationalities other than Omanis from March 17.
However, the PIA will continue its flight operation but it will not carry those passengers facing travel ban or restrictions.
PIA has issued a directive to its passengers travelling to Pakistan required to present a copy of the test result for COVID-19 through RT-PCR conducted 24 hours prior to boarding the flight.
The PIA said result of the test must include the name and passport number of the passenger and original test result will be required at the airport where the passenger will disembark.
The PIA said the airline will comply with this mandatory requirement, therefore, no passenger will be allowed to board without test result. RT-PCR test requirement is effective from end of day March 20, 2020, 23.50 hours.
On the other hand, a large number of people waiting to come back to Pakistan from European countries have strongly condemned the move by the Aviation Division of imposing ban on entry into Pakistan without test result for COVID-19, as they termed it as a ‘virtual lock down’ and unjustified.
An airline official said the national flag carrier which had already been suffering huge losses due to corona virus, the new move of requirement of COVID-19 test will further plunge it into crisis as the number of travellers will drop.
One of the travellers who was stuck in UK said that he is having four members of his family to travel to Pakistan and he had to spend UK pounds 2000 to get the COVID-19 test report which will be available after 48 hours.
In the existing ban by Pakistan government, he will not be able to travel to his home country.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2020