Pakistan to resume outbound international flights as COVID-19 spreads

FILE PHOTO: A worker cleans the floor of the newly built Islamabad International Airport, during a media tour ahead of its official opening, Pakistan April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan will allow outbound international flights to resume from Saturday, an aviation official said, after largely closing its airspace to commercial flights to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday’s announcement came on the day the South Asian nation reported the largest one-day spread of the infection, with 2,636 cases and 57 deaths in the last 24 hours. Pakistan has recorded a total of 64,028 cases.

“Both national and foreign airlines shall be allowed to operate from all international airports of Pakistan,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, Senior Joint Secretary at the Civil Aviation Authority, said in a statement, adding that flights would be allowed from Saturday.

Two remote airports in southern Baluchistan province will be exempted from the operations, he said.

“The airlines … may carry passengers from Pakistan to international destinations,” Khokhar said, adding that flights to Pakistan could carry cargo but not passengers.

International and local flights have been suspended since March, with exemptions for some flights to enable international repatriation in and out of Pakistan.

Domestic operations had already resumed this month. Those flights included a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A320 that crashed into a residential neighbourhood of Karachi on May 22, killing 97 on board. Two passengers survived.

Despite a rising rate of infection, Pakistan has rolled back almost all lockdown measures, primarily to avert an economic meltdown.

Khokhar, however, said the passengers will have to follow standard precautions to help contain the virus for both the local and the international flights.

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