RAWALPINDI: Saudi Arabia has lifted travel restrictions on people having valid visas subject to their Covid-19 tests coming negative 48 hours prior to their travel.
In a statement, the Foreign Office spokesperson said there was no Pakistan-specific travel restriction.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 75 Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights operated every week — Jeddah 42, Riyadh 13, Madina 12 and Dammam eight — which were reduced to 22.
He said due to limited number of PIA flights, most Pakistani nationals having valid visas were facing difficulty in reaching Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, the spokesman said, the matter was taken up with the Saudi authorities who allowed 21 additional flights (Jeddah 10, Madina, six and Dammam, five) from Sept 25 to 30th.
He further said the Saudi authorities were also considering permitting more flights from Oct 1 to Oct 30.
With additional flights, Pakistanis are travelling to Saudi Arabia without any difficulty, the spokesman added.
More PIA flights PIA has got special permission to operate seven more flights to Saudi Arabia till Sept 30.
The permission to operate the flights to Saudi Arabia is in addition to the 21 flights the airline was earlier allowed.
PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said their offices would remain open from 9am to 6pm on Saturday to facilitate people, adding that PIA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) (retired) Air Marshal Arshad Malik had instructed the staff to ensure intending passengers were taken care of.
The spokesman said once booking started, more passengers would be accommodated as seats would be easily available.
He said residence permits (Iqamas) of most people were expiring on Sept 30 due to which the PIA CEO had requested Prime Minister Imran Khan to get permission for more flights.
Due to the prime minister’s efforts, Pakistanis were able to travel to Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, a large number of people seeking confirmation of their seats gathered outside the PIA office on The Mall in Rawalpindi on Friday.
One intending passenger, requesting anonymity, told Dawn that he had come to the airline office in the morning and asked the staff for a seat confirmation.
“I contacted the booking counter, but was refused. I went to another counter but got the same reply and was asked to come on Saturday,” he said.
“I am worried because my Iqama is expiring on the midnight of September 29,” he said, adding that, “If I am not able to fly to Saudi Arabia, I may lose my job.”
The airlines’ spokesman said: “There was tremendous rush at the Rawalpindi office as people feared that they would not get seats. PIA would like to assure everyone that seven additional flights were being operated and they would be accommodated in a systematic manner.”
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2020