An association of Pakistan-origin professionals in Ireland has urged the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) to reconsider its decision to ban air travel from Ireland to Pakistan, terming the move "premature".

The request was made in a letter addressed to the NCOC by the Irish Pakistani Professionals Association (IPPA), days after the NCOC reviewed the global Covid-19 situation amid the spread of the new variant Omicron and decided to place travel ban on nine more countries, mostly from Europe.

A statement issued by the NCOC on Monday said it had revised and expanded Category C — a list of countries from which travel is banned, except under certain conditions.

Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland and Zimbabwe were the countries that were added to the list. Travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia as well as Hong Kong was already banned late last month.

Read: How fast does it spread?: Scientists ask whether Omicron can outrun Delta

In its letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the IPPA Executive Committee noted that the Republic of Ireland had been placed in Category C following the NCOC review "based on the disease profile and health protocol in place in the originating country".

The association said it understood the situation and recognised that the NCOC had the right to take action to control the spread of Covid-19 in Pakistan. "However, the IPPA believe Ireland should not be included in Category C," it added.

To support its argument, the IPPA, whose membership consists mainly of medical, IT, financial, legal and media professionals living and working in Ireland, pointed out that 90 per cent of the Irish population above age 12 had been fully vaccinated, while 25.4pc of the population had received a booster vaccine as of December 7.

It emphasised that "there is only one recorded case of the Omicron variant in Ireland." By comparison, it said, Denmark, which is listed in Category A by the NCOC, had reported 183 cases of the strain.

According to the IPPA, Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team had been proactively managing and containing Covid-19, and the country's government had reintroduced restrictions in a number of areas to contain the rate of infection and forestall opportunities for Omicron to take hold.

While recognising the measures by both Pakistani and Irish authorities to prevent the spread of the new variant, the association noted that "the transmission rate and the health impact of the Omicron variant along with the impact of vaccines on the variant are still largely unknown."

"The IPPA believe the decision of NCOC to place the Republic of Ireland in Category C is premature and we humbly request that the NCOC reconsider the decision and lift the ban immediately and allow the people of Ireland to travel to Pakistan subject to the full precautionary protocols required for categories B and A," the letter stated.

Dr Ahmed Murtaza, a medical registrar with Ireland's Health Services Executive, in a message to Dawn.com said the NCOC decision to ban travel from Ireland had greatly impacted the Pakistani community in the country and their scheduled travel plans.

He said his father lived alone in Pakistan and was suffering from multiple medical issues, adding that he was unable to travel to the country to accompany his father to his planned heart procedure.

Exceptional travel

While banning inbound travel from Category C countries, the NCOC had detailed the health protocols that need to be observed in case of essential travel from these countries. These protocols require passengers to be fully vaccinated while all passengers, local or foreigners above the age of six years, must possess a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test report issued not more than 48 hours prior to boarding, and get the rapid antigen testing (RAT) conducted on arrival in Pakistan.

Passengers who test negative will be allowed to proceed, however, passengers from South Africa, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia will have to undergo a mandatory three-day quarantine followed by a PCR test.

Passengers who test positive on arrival will be quarantined for 10 days and a PCR test will be conducted on the eighth day, the NCOC stated, adding that they will be allowed to exit quarantine if they test negative. In case of a positive result, they will spend more time under quarantine or be moved to hospital based on the advice of health authorities, according to the NCOC statement.

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