ISLAMABAD: The government on Monday laxed its policy regarding the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis, allowing immediate coronavirus tests upon landing in the country, as it scaled up its capacity to bring back more than 11,000 citizens this week.
Addressing a press conference here at the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on National Security Dr Moeed Yusuf said the Sialkot and Quetta airports were being operationalised to manage the increasing number of returning passengers.
“We are going to implement more flexible policy this time and the condition to wait for 48 hours to get tested is abolished. However, the overseas Pakistanis will get tested as soon as possible where no cut short timeline could be given for getting tested and going back to homes,” Yusuf said.
“It has been decided after consultations with the health experts. The provinces are given the right to home-quarantine those getting positive tests with showing no symptoms of Covid-19 for 14 days. The provinces will send the positive patients to their districts to get treatment closer to their hometowns.”
He said the government had scaled up its capacity to repatriate more than 11,000 stranded Pakistanis per week or 10 days, on the direction of Prime Minister Imran Khan. “The main impediment in bringing back the overseas Pakistanis is the country’s existing testing and quarantine capacity,” he added.
“Around 7,000-8,000 overseas Pakistanis were repatriated in the past 10 days, Yusuf said. The data of all passengers since April 4 was thoroughly analysed and it had been noted that the positive ratio of Covid-19 patients was more than the projections, he added.
“At present, 20,000 overseas Pakistanis have been repatriated and over 110,000 more want to come back. Around 11,000-12,000 will be repatriated per week or within 10 days in the coming week,” he said and added that in case of the positive ratio increases then the decision could be reversed.
“From today till May 21 as many as 10,710 overseas Pakistanis will be brought back from 22 countries—mainly from the Gulf countries,” Yusuf said, adding that the government was considering to make Sialkot and Quetta airports operational to manage the increasing number of passengers.
He said the foreign ministry had contacted the Gulf countries and raised the issues of high number of positive passengers offloaded. “It has been decided to conduct tests of the overseas Pakistanis first in their respective Gulf country and then they will be retested here in Pakistan,” he added.
Last week, the government announced the schedule of several special flights to bring back thousands of Pakistanis from Gulf countries as well as the US, UK and other destinations. They also included the Chinese students stranded in Chinese city of Wuhan.
Pakistan’s Ambassador Naghmana Hashmi said in a statement on Monday that the embassy in China was finalising the arrangements for sending back the Pakistani students from Wuhan, in the central Hubei province, through a special flight on May 18.
She said around 1,300 Pakistanis were studying in different universities on Hubei, including 800 in the provincial capital of Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus first emerged in December last year. She said that some of these students would stay in China for a few months to get their degrees.
“Coordination is in progress to airlift all these Pakistanis students,” the ambassador said. She defended the government decision of not repatriating its students from China during the lockdown. “This decision proved useful as there is no case of virus transmission from China to Pakistan,” she added.
“All the students and members of Pakistani community remained safe during the epidemic. This decision not only sent a good message at the political level but it was fully acknowledged and praised by the Chinese nation also.”
Meanwhile, a special Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight left Washington for Islamabad on Sunday, carrying 200 Pakistani citizens stranded because of the coronavirus outbreak that led to the suspension of commercial flight operations around the world.
It was the first of six such charter flights, arranged by the government in collaboration with the PIA, for the repatriation of a total of around 1,500 Pakistanis stranded in the United States, according to the Pakistani embassy in Washington.
Meanwhile, a US chartered flight will be taking around 150 Pakistani students back to Pakistan on Monday. These students had been in the US on various US-sponsored exchanges programmes. Earlier, a number of stranded Pakistanis in the US returned to Pakistan using Qatar Airways flights.
The second chartered flight for Karachi will also depart from Washington on May 13 2020. The third special flight to Lahore will operate from Newark Airport, New Jersey. The government will also operate three more flights from the US for repatriation of Pakistani citizens, the embassy said.
With additional input from APP