By Charlotte Greenfield and Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan will reduce the number of international flights into and out of its airports by 80% to help curb rising COVID-19 cases, the government said on Saturday.
The restrictions will come into effect on May 5 and will run to May 20, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement, though it did not specify which flights or destinations would be affected by the measure.
The controls will be reviewed on May 18, the government said in a statement endorsed by the National Command Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s response to the pandemic.
The restrictions will be applied to chartered and private flights as well as scheduled services.
All international passengers upon arrival at Pakistani airports on remaining services would be required to undergo rapid antigen testing (RAT) and will also have to show an RT-PCR test conducted within 72 hours before boarding a Pakistan-bound flight.
Passengers with a negative COVID test will still undergo self-quarantine at home for 10 days, and those found positive will be shifted to a self-paid facility for the same period of time. Inbound passengers will also need to download an app on to their phones to help monitor their movements.
There will be exemptions on these controls for children younger than 12 years old, disabled persons, high-level international dignities and Pakistani deportees.
Pakistan has seen record deaths in recent days from the coronavirus and stricter restrictions on movement and gathering in public are planned for the upcoming Eid holiday, though the level of infections has not yet reached the level in neighbouring India.
Officials are worried the country’s healthcare system, already under strain, could reach breaking point if more contagious variants of the virus begin to spread, as has happened in India.
Pakistan reported 4,696 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours and 146 deaths.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Asif Shahzad; Editing by Richard Pullin and David Holmes)