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March 22, 2020

Pakistan halts int’l flights to stem virus spread

Top Story

 
March 22, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has suspended all incoming international flight operations for a fortnight in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country as the Punjab government followed in Sindh’s footsteps and implemented a partial lockdown in the province.

In light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the government announced on Saturday that it is suspending international flight operations for two weeks (March 21 to April 4). Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning Dr Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt-Gen Mohammad Afzal addressed a press conference in Islamabad.

Yusuf, and the other officials apprised the nation of the measures being taken to curb the spread of coronavirus, which has infected nearly 700 people in Pakistan, including 357 in Sindh. Dr Yusuf, however, said a few international flights of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) would be allowed to return. The decision was to come into effect from Saturday night at 8:00pm, he added.

While calling it “a difficult decision”, Yusuf said the ban is temporary and it does not include cargo and diplomats in Pakistan. “The government is taking this seriously. All our missions have been issued directives that whatever they can do to help they should do,” he said.

Yusuf said the government is reviewing the situation in the country and is taking measures which are in Pakistan’s best interest. He added that when travel activities will resume, the coronavirus certification that was made mandatory earlier, will not be mandatory anymore. “Screening process will continue as of right now,” he added.

Following the press conference, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) temporarily suspended its international flight operations for a week. In a tweet a PIA spokesperson wrote: “PIA is cancelling all its international flights in accordance with the directives of government effective from March 21 till March 28.”

In Punjab, all shopping malls, markets and public places were closed in the province for two days. They will remain shut until 9am on Tuesday, Chief Minister Usman Buzdar announced. Pharmacies, fuel stations and grocery stores will be allowed to remain open during this period. Buzdar urged the public to self-isolate over the next two days and announced that a “coronavirus emergency ordinance” will be introduced on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Islamabad said two employees were being quarantined on its premises. A US Embassy spokesperson said an employee was currently being quarantined at the embassy premises. “We are aware of reports of a Covid-19 case related to an Embassy Islamabad employee. Due to privacy concerns, we are not able to share additional information,” a US Embassy spokesperson said. “We are aware of reports that a separate Embassy employee arrived at Islamabad airport on March 21 showing signs of illness. That employee is currently being evaluated,” the spokesperson said, adding they were coordinating with Pakistani authorities and implementing all appropriate measures.

In further measures, the Pakistan Railways suspended a total of 42 trains until April 1 as a preventive measure to restrict the transmission of the coronavirus. In a press conference, railways minister Sheikh Rashid said the NDMA has promised to provide scanners and protective gear “for better scanning of passengers”. He also appealed to passengers to avoid unnecessary travelling and stay home. With the suspension of 42 trains, the railways are set to lose Rs2.35 billion, the minister said.—News Desk/APP