After nearly three months, Pakistan has partially resumed international flights to repatriate its citizens stranded abroad due to the COVID-19 lockdown, according to a media report.
On March 21, Pakistan suspended all international flight operations to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. The government has now reopened 25 per cent of the country's airspace so that the citizens stuck abroad could return, the Express Tribune reported.
Speaking to a private TV channel, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari said the initiative to partially reopen the airspace was taken as the government was concerned about a large number of Pakistani labourers stuck abroad, particularly in the Gulf countries, the report said.
"We have resumed partial international flight operations to bring back the maximum number of expatriates stranded in foreign countries," he added.
The federal government had unveiled a new policy on Wednesday under which it announced its decision to reopen 25 per cent of its airspace after June 20. Under the policy, around 40,000 to 45,000 Pakistanis will return to the country every week and all stranded citizens will be home in a month.
Only symptomatic passengers will be tested and if found positive, they will be quarantined at the facilities provided by the government. However, it will be mandatory for every passenger to quarantine themselves for 14 days at home and they will have to submit this in writing at the airport.
Around 70 per cent of the flights have been dedicated for Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Malaysia where Pakistani labourers were stranded, the report said. Speaking about the policy, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security and Strategic Policy Dr Moeed Yusuf clarified that the flight operation was only for repatriation of stranded Pakistanis and the government had not decided to resume pre-coronavirus pandemic flight operations.
"Only 3% Pakistanis brought the virus to the country whereas the remaining 97% cases are locally transmitted," he said. Bukhari also said that 80,000 stranded Pakistanis have been repatriated to the country, of which 40,000 were workers who had been laid off by their employers abroad.
The number of coronavirus infections in Pakistan reached 181,088 on Monday after 4,471 new cases surfaced during the last 24 hours. Eighty-nine more patients succumbed to the COVID-19 during the same period, taking the number of the total deaths in the country to 3,590.