175 air passengers allowed to go home after testing negative for Covid-19

Updated 30 Mar 2020

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Pak-China Friendship Centre has been converted into a quarantine centre for coronavirus patients. — Online
Pak-China Friendship Centre has been converted into a quarantine centre for coronavirus patients. — Online

ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI: A total of 175 passengers who arrived from Bangkok, were allowed to return home on Sunday after they were kept in quarantine and tested for Covid-19.

Separately, the matter of a private hospital that admitted a patient for four days and sent the patient to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) only after tests confirmed a Covid-19 diagnosis has been referred by the district administration to the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS).

The administration has argued that the criticism of the hospital was unjustified, because if the facility is sealed other private hospitals may stop taking pneumonia patients.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf said on Saturday that the government had arranged for the return of Pakistanis stranded abroad.

The flight that brought back the passengers was the last of its kind, and arrangements such as visa extensions were made in other cases; international flight operations will remain suspended until April 4.

Last flight of stranded Pakistanis landed at IIA this weekend; passengers quarantined and tested

On Saturday night, flight number TG-349 carrying 170 passengers landed at Islamabad International Airport (IIA). All the passengers were taken to three quarantine centres: two hotels and the Pak-China Friendship Centre.

The special flight was operated by Thai Airways following negotiations between Pakistani and Thai authorities for Pakistanis stranded in Bangkok after the Pakistani government suspended international flight operations on March 21 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hundreds of Pakistani transit passengers were stuck in airports in Bangkok, Dubai, Qatar and Malaysia.

The passengers in Thailand were looked after by Pakistani Ambassador Asim Iftikhar Ahmed.

The flight landed at IIA at 10:30pm on Saturday. All the passengers were subjected to Covid-19 swab tests in the arrival lounge by health department staff and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) before being quarantined by the NDMA in three facilities.

They were also directed to submit health cards and declaration forms, after which they went through temperature screenings with thermal guns to ascertain whether they had fever or symptoms of the flu.

None of the passengers were found to have any apparent symptoms. They were also provided Covid-19 awareness literature and served refreshments.

Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqaat told Dawn that all the passengers were quarantined and their samples collected for tests.

The NHS ministry has introduced standard operating procedures (SOP) under which all suspended coronavirus patients travelling from abroad are tested for the virus.

According to a National Institute of Health (NIH) report, all the passengers tested negative and were allowed to return to their homes.

An NIH official said it would have been a significant concern if a few of the passengers had tested positive, as there could then have been the possibility that they had transferred the virus to other passengers.

“However, as they were all found to be negative it was decided to let them go home,” he said.

When asked about the patient diagnosed with Covid-19 at a private hospital, Mr Shafqaat said a woman was admitted to a private hospital, where she was kept in isolation and treated for pneumonia. She was confirmed to have contracted Covid-19 four days later, as the virus also causes pneumonia.

“After that, the management of the private hospital referred the patient to Pims for treatment. Some elements want the hospital to be sealed, alleging that the hospital should have sent her to Pims the very first day. We do not agree with that opinion, as if the hospital is sealed no private hospital will accept any patient with pneumonia-like symptoms,” he said.

“Despite that, we have referred the matter to the health ministry and if the ministry believes the hospital should be sealed, we will implement its recommendations,” he added.

Separately, a Qatar Airways flight, QR-633, with 403 people on board took off from IIA early Sunday morning.

All the passengers were scanned by the Civil Aviation Authority’s medical team and health department staff prior to boarding. They were also sprayed with disinfectant before and after boarding was completed.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has also issued an advisory making it mandatory for passengers travelling to Gilgit and Skardu to wear masks, as part of their efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez said no one would be given a boarding pass if they are not wearing a mask.

He said every PIA flight is disinfected according to international standards and all aircraft are sanitised before boarding.

PIA flights from Islamabad to Gilgit andSkardu were cancelled on Sunday due to bad weather conditions.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2020