Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has rejected setting up PCR facilities on airports on grounds that it lacks the resources to set them up. It has instead, requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad, to discuss details on the matter with its counterpart in UAE.
Earlier, UAE opened its transit flights to several countries including Pakistan. Fully vaccinated Pakistani citizens could travel from 5th August onwards, however, many Pakistanis have been denied boarding flights due to lack of Covid testing structure at the airports.
A UAE country manager from Airblue Airlines (a private carrier that operates from Islamabad, Lahore, Sharjah, etc) shared that UAE is enforcing strict SOPs (standard operating procedures) which includes the Rapid Antigen Facility at all departing airports to be mandatory.
UAE requires the Rapid Antigen Test to be conducted at the departing airport, four hours before boarding the flight. While a plethora of laboratories offer these tests, it is a waste of time and money for those travelling to the UAE, if the tests are conducted outside the airport.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had, however, shared that it would set up airport testing facilities in a matter of days. A regional manager for UAE at PIA disclosed that steps to set up rapid testing infrastructure were in process so Pakistani passengers can board their flights to UAE timely. He shared that currently this issue was being faced at all airports and terminals; PIA functions in 24 cities domestically, like Islamabad, Sialkot, Multan, Lahore, Peshawar, and Karachi.
The UAE requirement are very specific “within 4 hours of flight departure at departure airports” all #pakistan airlines are trying to find a solution to set up shop s (of labs) in departing airports but needs help by movers and shakers such as @MaddyWithKhan and yourself https://t.co/NADjwXsS0A pic.twitter.com/NIiIg6NA7U
— Sakhawat Hussain, MD (@sak386) August 6, 2021
People coming from distant areas are now stranded in airports with their time and money wasted due to the mismanagement of departing air terminals. The guidelines set by the UAE government on airport testing should have been taken into full consideration by the Pakistani government before thousands had rushed to book their tickets.
The Pakistani government has to prioritise setting up required covid testing infrastructure at all airports. Though UAE has resumed flights with Pakistan, National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) had issued a warning seeing the spike in Covid cases over the past week.
Pakistan is however seeing an upward trajectory in its covid cases, just last Sunday, up to 5,112 cases were registered. The recent surge is pointed towards the Delta variant, which sprung from India. Pakistan is likely to commit to its smart lockdown, in order to retain its status for international flights.
Issue is that if you get your test done at one of these locations 4 hours prior to departure then run across town to get to airport is complicated. Karachi lab is in Clifton block II airport is on the other side of town. Same in Islamabad. Just allow this at the airport simple.
— Fakhr-e-Alam S.I & S.E (@falamb3) August 6, 2021
Rapid Antigen Test not accepted by Emirates. It's PCR Rapid Test. pic.twitter.com/cBHZSd6RsD
— Rana Khan (@RMR_Khan) August 6, 2021
The second-largest national group UAE hosts are from Pakistan (1.27 million people). Pakistani nationals living in UAE are bifurcated in white-collar jobs (20 per cent) and blue-collar jobs (80 per cent), therefore becoming the second most important source of remittances for Pakistan.
When UAE first announced in 2020 to restrict flights from Pakistan, An estimate showed that the average of foreign remittances for the fiscal year 2020-2021 could have been 6 billion dollars but due to the visa ban and flight control these numbers have easily staggered.
Read more: UAE unbans transit flights from Pakistan
Flights from UAE were banned once more from July 15th 2021 onwards with an extended restriction up until the end of July. Many Pakistanis and other nationals working and living in the UAE could now finally travel to the UAE with the recent ease in travel restrictions, yet the lack of PCR facilities has caused a tremendous setback in their plans to travel.