File image of Pakistan International Airlines flight | (Photo Credit: Twitter/@Official_PIA)
Islamabad, May 16: Pakistan on Saturday partially resumed domestic flight operations amidst easing of the coronavirus-linked nationwide restrictions even as the COVID-19 cases continued to rise unabated and went past 39,600 with over 860 deaths. The limited resumption of the services under strict restrictions from five major airports came after Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that 20 per cent of domestic flights would resume from Saturday, but in a limited capacity.
The domestic flight operation has been restored to facilitate the passengers ahead of Eid which is expected to be observed on May 25 depending on the siting of the moon. Separately, a PIA flight carrying 257 stranded Pakistani nationals from Iraq reached Islamabad International Airport. Most of the passengers worked for oil and gas companies and were unable to return home after international flights were suspended. Pakistan International Airlines to Operate Direct Flights to US for the First Time: Official.
A spokesperson for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said that for now, the domestic flights will be operated by the PIA along with a private company. The ban on international flight operations, meanwhile, has been extended until May 31.
The PCAA, in a series of tweets on Friday, said it would closely monitor the passengers before they board the flight to ensure there is no further rise in the COVID-19 cases.
“In view of the difficulties being faced by passengers in travelling between major cities, Pakistan has been pleased to allow limited domestic flight operation from 5 major airports namely Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta with effect from 16th May, 2020,” it said, adding it has set very strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), ensuring disinfection, sanitising, social distancing and safety for the airline crew and passengers.
“It is highlighted that the SOPs for domestic passengers and chartered flight operation require disinfection of the aircraft prior to boarding, at least one vacant seat between the passengers, compulsory wearing of masks and use of hand sanitiser,” the PCAA said.
As per the norms, no food and beverages will be allowed during flight. Airlines are required to maintain emergency Personal Protective Equipment in every aircraft to deal with any health emergency during flight.
“Every passenger will be required to fill a health declaration form prior to boarding the aircraft, which include identification of the passenger, brief travel history during the past two weeks, current health state and an undertaking to comply with the SOPs,” the PCAA said.
Aviation Minister Khan earlier said that social distancing will be followed based on available seats and flights will only be allowed to fill 50 per cent of their full capacity. Meanwhile, officials said that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has reached 39,642. The Ministry of National Health Services said that 1,581 new cases were reported during the last 24 hours.
A total of 10,880 patients have so far recovered from the coronavirus while the death toll stands at 861. The total tests conducted so far were 359,264, including 14,878 tests done in the last 24 hours.
The infection is fast spreading but Prime Minister Imran Khan has declared that addressing the financial problems of the poor was as important as containing the contagion. Therefore, he has been pushing the provinces to further relax the restrictions.
Meanwhile, a report by a team of public health specialists associated with the Institute of Public Health at Jinnah Sindh Medical University said that Pakistan missed two critical opportunities that could have placed the country in a better position in its fight against the coronavirus.
Titled “Easing Lockdown in Pakistan: Inevitable but Potentially Catastrophic”, the report pointed out that official indecisiveness led to a delayed and ineffective lockdown with constant increase in cases and the government failed to utilise the period of two-month lockdown for building a policy framework on how to return to normalcy, Dawn news reported.
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