The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) on Tuesday allowed all Pakistanis stranded in Category C countries to return to the country until December 31 without requiring any exemption.

Category C is a list of countries from which travel is banned, except under certain conditions. The countries currently on the list are Croatia, Hungary, Netherlands, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Vietnam, Poland, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia.

The statement from the NCOC, the country's nerve centre for Covid-19 response, said that individuals with a valid National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis or Pakistan Origin Card would be allowed to return as well.

It added that proof of vaccination and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test report — maximum 48 hours old — would be required prior to boarding. Mandatory quarantine will also remain in place for travellers from countries struck by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The statement also noted that since vaccinations for ages 15 to 18 had not started in some countries, the condition of mandatory full vaccination for that age group was being delayed to January 31 from Dec 1.

Last week, the NCOC had added nine more countries to Category C while reviewing the global Covid-19 situation amid Omicron's spread. It had allowed stranded Pakistanis to return till Dec 15.

The review had come after a travel ban was placed on six countries and Hong Kong in November due to the new strain.

Omicron has been classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a "highly transmissible" variant — the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant.

Pakistan on Monday confirmed its first case of the new variant.

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