Passengers on special flights returning stranded Pakistanis will no longer have to wait a minimum of 48 hours to get tested for coronavirus
The federal government on Monday announced it had decided to reduce the time incoming international travelers spend in quarantine from 48 hours to the “minimum time required” to test them for the novel coronavirus.
Acting on the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan that all Pakistanis stranded abroad be brought back home as soon as possible, the National Command and Operations Center for COVID-19 has decided that passengers would be transported to quarantine centers as soon as they land. Instead of the earlier mandated 48 hours, they would only be required to stay in these facilities until they have been tested for COVID-19, after which they might be quarantined or instructed to self-isolate at home, depending on their test results.
According to Special Assistant to the P.M. on National Security Moeed Yusuf, this strategy would allow the government to raise its weekly limit for inbound passengers from around 8,000 under the current policy to 12,000.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Yusuf reiterated that inbound passengers would be allowed to choose between free, government-run quarantine centers, or paid government-regulated hotels.
“Around 7,000-8,000 overseas Pakistanis were repatriated in the past 10 days,” he said, adding that analysis of the passenger data had found that the positive ratio of COVID-19 patients was exceeding projections. “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. However, he warned, that if the number of COVID-19 infections spiked among passengers, this 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,” Yusuf said. He said the government was considering operationalizing airports in Sialkot and Quetta to manage the increasing number of passengers.
To questions on the high ratio of COVID-19 patients in flights from Gulf nations, Yusuf said the foreign ministry had raised the issue with host countries. “It has been decided to conduct tests of the overseas Pakistanis in their respective Gulf countries, and then retest them in Pakistan,” he said.
He said testing for the novel coronavirus would be conducted as soon as possible once the passenger arrive at quarantine facilities, adding that people with negative results would be sent home and advised to isolate for 14 days.
Passengers who test positive for COVID-19, however, would be treated as per established protocols. Asymptomatic patients would be kept in isolation/quarantine facilities until completion of 14 days, with a potential for home isolation if the facilities permit. Patients exhibiting symptoms, meanwhile, would only be allowed to return home when their quarantine completes.