• Flights from UK, Europe, Canada, China, Malaysia increased
• Quarantine conditions revised
• New cases remain below 1,000 for second consecutive day
ISLAMABAD: As Covid-19 situation improves in most parts of the world, including Pakistan, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has decided to gradually normalise inbound international air travel, increasing direct flights to 40 per cent from the United Kingdom (UK), Europe, Canada, China and Malaysia.
On the other hand, the country continued to record less than 1,000 cases for the second consecutive day and fewer than 50 deaths for the last 10 days.
According to a document of the NCOC, available with Dawn, from July 1 onwards, direct flights from the UK, Europe, Canada, China and Malaysia, which was 20pc of the normal volume, would be raised to 40pc.
It said pre-boarding and on arrival existing testing protocols for all categories of the countries would remain the same. However, home quarantine requirement for negative Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) cases has been abolished whereas those who test positive will have to undergo quarantine as per prevailing procedure, the statement added.
An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) said Pakistan had introduced three categories — A, B and C — in October last year to deal with Covid-19.
“The countries in category A are exempted from the mandatory coronavirus testing, those in category B require a negative PCR test that has to be taken 72 hours before travel while people coming from countries in category C have to face restrictions and are only allowed under strict NCOC guidelines,” he said.
At present, 38 countries, including India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Brazil, are in category C while others have been placed in category B, the official added.
Following the decision, the NCOC advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to disseminate information to all its high commissions and embassies and assign priority to inform the Pakistani diaspora.
The NHS ministry official said in April, due to emergence of the UK, Indian and South African variants, it had been decided that people would have to stay in quarantine facilities. Later, it was decided that they should stay in quarantine in their homes even if their RAT tests were negative.
“However, this condition has now been abolished for those with negative tests. Those who test positive will have to undergo quarantine in their homes rather than in government facilities. The decision has been made after Covid-19 cases reduced in most parts of the globe. In India, around half a million people were getting infected, but now the situation has considerably improved there,” he said.
Replying to a question, the official hoped that things would continue to normalise unless a fourth wave of the virus broke out.
Following the NCOC’s decision, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority issued a NOTAM (notice to airmen) to all concerned.
“In view of the recent improvement in Covid-19 situation in various parts of the world, the curtailment of international inbound landing flight operation to Pakistan has been revised,” the notice said.
It said direct flights from Europe, UK, China, Malaysia and Canada to airports in Pakistan had been increased by another 20pc from the existing 20pc of the approved summer 2021 schedule.
The notice further added that status quo would continue to be maintained on the current 20pc of the approved summer 2021 schedule for flights operating from all other regions except the countries mentioned.
Pakistan had revised travel restrictions for inbound passengers from countries in category C in the second week of June, allowing Pakistanis to travel without the exemption letter. However, foreigners would need the letter as per restrictions.
Passengers transiting through category C countries (not leaving the airport premises) will also not require an exemption letter irrespective of the country of origin.
Meanwhile, the NCOC data showed that 23 people succumbed to the virus and 901 more got infected during the last 24 hours.
New cases have remained below 1,000 for the second consecutive day, while casualties continue to hover below 50 since June 14 when 59 deaths were reported.
The number of active cases has been calculated at 32,241 whereas 2,197 patients were under treatment in hospitals out of whom 253 were on ventilators.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2021