Thursday June 13, 2024

Strict aviation rules: Thousands of Pakistanis stranded in UK

March 20, 2020

By Murtaza Ali Shah *** Hamza Azhar Salam *** Tanveer Khatana

LONDON/MANCHESTER: The new aviation rules requiring all passengers to obtain a coronavirus test result before arrival in Pakistan have been deeply criticised by the Pakistani community in the UK including students, doctors, visitors and parents.

Pakistanis have termed this rule inherently unfair since the National Health Service (NHS) is not offering tests to those with mild symptoms. Thousands of Pakistani students in the UK are unable to go back to their country because of the recent requirement of carrying a negative COVID-19 test result before entering Pakistan. This requirement is considered unfair to Pakistani students in the UK since the NHS is only testing people with severe symptoms and is asking the rest of the people to 'self-quarantine' and stay at home.

According to a notification from the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), entry within Pakistan’s territorial limits would not be allowed without an authentic COVID-19 negative test result. This means all passengers, including Pakistani expatriates, will have to get a Covid-19 test result certificate before they travel to Pakistan within 24 hours of travel.

Earlier, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said, “All passengers travelling to Pakistan would be required to provide a certified copy of test result for Covid-19 through RT-PCR conducted during the 24 hour period prior to boarding the flight.”

As the viral coronavirus continues to spread, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has published travel advice asking travelers to cancel non-essential travel to help control the widespread outbreak. GP Surgeries are only providing either online or over the phone services to patients. It seems to be an impossible task for travelers to obtain a certificate from their GP’s regarding coronavirus.

Dr Ansar Hayat, a General Practitioner (GP) based in Maybush Medical Centre in Wakefield said, "We have had so many people asking for this certificate today; we have advised people not to travel unless it’s essential. Currently, there is no such facility available even for frontline staff within NHS unless they show symptoms. NHS is only testing those patients at hospitals who are showing symptoms. However private patients can be tested and given a certificate with their passport details at a cost of £375 but arranging all of this within 24 hours is very difficult.” An Oldham resident of Pakistani origin who is due to fly next week along with his family spoke exclusively to this reporter and said: “I have contacted more than four surgeries for this certificate, no one is offering this service as they are trying to contain the coronavirus spread.

A private clinic, however, said they might offer this service for £375 per person but the minimum time required is 48 Hours. It’s six of us flying to Pakistan and this extra £2250 bill is just ridiculous.”

Ibrahim Nayyar, an undergraduate student at City University left his London accommodation and shifted to his relative's flat in Brighton to avoid a suspected lockdown of the city.

He said, "I would prefer to go to Pakistan during this crisis since I want to be close to my family but the recent statement has deeply confused me. NHS is not taking my test. What should I do?"

Faisal Effendi, a student at the Coventry University, appealed to the Government of Pakistan to reconsider its decision. He said the UK is only testing the people with Corona symptoms. He said the policy is unfair.

Samad Rahim, a postgraduate student at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) said, "I have shifted from my student accommodation to my brother's house like most of my friends. I don't know why we're not being allowed to go back. Everyone wants to reunite with their families before they close borders."

Amir Hamza Malik, a law student from City University highlighted that "many students are stuck in obtrusive student accommodation contracts where they are contractually obliged to pay rent regardless of whether they stay. Even students who go back to Pakistan will have to continue paying rent to their student accommodations."

The press attache in Pakistan's High Commissionsaid the High Commissioner Nafees Zakaria had raised this issue with the relevant authorities and a solution would be conceived soon. He confirmed that the High Commission would provide updates as soon as the situation changed.

Currently, passengers arriving in Pakistan without the COVID-19 test certificate will be deported at the expense of the airline they travelled on. The test result must also include the name and passport number of the passenger. Original test results would be required upon arrival at any airport in Pakistan.

The travel restrictions were announced due to a sudden surge of coronavirus cases in Pakistan. The confirmed number of coronavirus cases crossed 381 on Thursday after new cases emerged in Sindh, Islamabad, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.