ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will operating 11 special flights to the United Kingdom to transport around 3,000 stranded passengers until April 9 after which it will ban entry to people from four countries, including Pakistan, as part of measures to combat the new, deadlier Covid-19 variant it exported to the world.
Last week, London banned international arrivals from four more countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, and the Philippines — unless they hold dual nationality of Britain or Ireland in view of concerns over new virus variants but opted against including European nations that are facing a resurgence of the virus.
“With a total of 11 flights operating in the sector, PIA would be actually transporting more than 3,000 passengers, ex-pat population, back to their country or back to their homes in the UK,” Arab News quoted PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Niazi as saying.
The airline had already planned a number of scheduled flights to cater to a load of people returning to England for Easter, but the new travel restrictions had created “demand panic” in the market, he said.
“Consequently, we actually had to ask permission from all concerned, and we thankfully and very, fortunately, we were able to mount the flights and we are now able to report that a lot of demand has now been catered to.
PIA on Monday requested London to allow four additional flights to Britain until April 9. “After two days of ‘panic’, passengers had now been adjusted on all available flights and new flights had ample capacity for everyone,” Niazi said Wednesday.
While London claims the decision to suspend travel from the aforementioned nations was based on advice from public health experts and scientific data, no European nations are placed on the red list, even though much of Europe is witnessing a resurgence of the virus that has prompted many countries to reimpose lockdown restrictions.
Health experts say that the surge is being driven by virus variants, including Britain one, that are sweeping the continent.
Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar on Saturday questioned the decision to place Pakistan on the so-called red list of countries.
“Every country has a right to take decisions to safeguard the health of their citizens,” he said in a tweet. “However, the recent decision by the UK government to add some countries, including Pakistan, on the ‘red list’ raises a legitimate question whether the choice of countries is based on science or foreign policy.”
The government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced questions in recent days as to why France, which is suffering one of the worst outbreaks in Europe, is not on the list. Yet putting France on the red list could have serious implications for trade flows in and out of the UK, given its reliance on traffic from cross-Channel ports.