The domestic flights are set to resume from five major airports of the country from Saturday (today), announced the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) days after Prime Minister Imran Khan relaxed the lockdown to contain the coronavirus.In a video statement, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said 20% of domestic flights would resume operations from Saturday (today) following a final decision taken by the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) on Thursday.
The five major airports include Jinnah International Airport, Allama Iqbal International Airport, Islamabad International Airport (IIAP), Quetta International Airport, and Bacha Khan International Airport.
Sarwar said social distancing would be followed based on the seats in the airplane and capacity to fill 50% of the seats would be maintained. “The passengers would be provided with the opportunity to travel safely,” he added.
The move came “in view of the difficulties being faced by passengers in travelling between major cities in Pakistan”, the PCAA said on Twitter.
The minister, it added, noted that the “Aviation Division has prepared very strict SOPs ensuring disinfection, social distancing and safety for the airline crew and passengers”.
Apart from social distancing, other measures include “disinfection of the aircraft prior to boarding, at least one vacant seat between the passengers, compulsory wearing of masks and use of hand sanitizer”. Furthermore, no food or beverages would be allowed.
Passengers would be required to fill health declaration forms before boarding the airplane and subjected to thermal scanning on entry and exit into and from a city. All luggage would be disinfected and no meet and greet would be allowed at the airport. Drivers have been advised to stay inside their respective vehicles in the parking lot.
A spokesperson for the PCAA said domestic flights would be operated by the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and one private company. The national carrier’s administration said tickets sales may start as early as the evening today.
However, sources informed Geo News that certain airlines had said they were not ready to resume domestic flight operations. Earlier in the day, Pakistan extended its ban on the international flight operations until May 31. Meanwhile, the Punjab government has decided to allow the public transport to ply roads after Chief Minister Usman Buzdar gave the green light to the move despite a rise in coronavirus cases across the province.
The chief minister asked the officials to provide a plan laying out the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) after a meeting with transporters (Saturday) today. The meeting will be presided over by Law Minister Raja Basharat, and will take place around 3pm. After the session, the provincial government will apprise the Centre of the SOPs and the decision to allow the public transport to operate, said sources. The transport will be both intra-city and inter-city. A report earlier presented to the chief minister stated that due to the lockdown and curbs on public transport, the problems of the common people had intensified.
It said that due to the situation that people were forced to use private vehicles at exorbitant rates. The report recommended that the transport sector should be allowed to become operational to bring relief to the public.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government decided re-opening of shopping malls and car manufacturing units in the province with conditions of strict implementation of decided SOPs. The government has finalised the SOPs after consultation with stakeholders of the sectors concerned.
Punjab Minister for Industries and Trade, Mian Aslam Iqbal said that the shopping malls and car manufacturing units would be operational from Monday. The car manufacturing units are allowed to work seven days a week. However, the shopping malls business hours are same as the other markets, i.e. the malls are allowing business from morning till 5pm.
In a similar development, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has decided to reopen the public transport from Monday as per the standard operating procedures (SOPs).
An official statement issued on Friday quoted Adviser to the Chief Minister on Information and Public Relations Ajmal Wazir as saying the decision was taken keeping in view the hardships faced by the public.
The adviser said the KP government took the action after a meeting of the Provincial Task Force on Covid-19 chaired by Chief Minister Mahmood Khan. He said all the divisional commissioners would finalise the SOPs in consultation with the Regional Transport Authority, adding the procedures would be strictly enforced.
Ajmal Wazir said the public transport owners would be required to charge the fares as per the reduced rates of the petroleum products. He said the commissioner would decide the opening of the intra and inter-districts routes for the public transport.
The adviser said the fuel stations would remain open round the clock while the barber shops would be allowed to function on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays till 4 pm by following the SOPs.
Meanwhile, Sindh has refused to resume transport services as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa announced it is reopening all public transport from Monday, following in the Punjab’s footsteps.
Sindh refused to do so, citing the rising number of coronavirus patients in the country and a “critical situation” in the province as cases, deaths, and recoveries continued to increase simultaneously.
The announcements from the KP, Punjab, and Sindh governments came after Prime Minister Imran Khan had requested the provincial authorities to open public transport.
Responding to the prime minister’s statement, Sindh Transport Minister Ovais Shah stated that although he respected the premier’s decision, coronavirus cases in the province were on an upward trend and the provincial government could not afford to let public transport open.
“Factory owners did not implement the SOPs after making a commitment with the government earlier,” Shah said. “Does the prime minister wish for Pakistan to become Wuhan or Italy?”
“We fear that resuming public transport operations will turn Pakistan into Italy. The prime minister has admitted that people are not adhering to the SOPs after the lockdown was eased. “Let us work together, respected prime minister. The provinces need your help at this time,” said the minister.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan requested the provinces on Friday to open public transport for providing relief and livelihood opportunities to the people, as the nation would have to learn to live with the virus until at least the year end.
Briefing the media after chairing a meeting on the coronavirus and to view the related situation, the prime minister noted that as per the health experts worldwide, there was no chance of vaccine for the cure of virus this year.
He said closure of public transport was hurting the poor people more than the rest. He asked the provinces to open public transport for their facilitation and livelihood. He noted that one or two provinces had their concerns that the opening of the public transport would result in spike in virus cases.
The prime minister maintained that the government was fully mindful of the pressure on the health community, including doctors, nurses and parademics. “One the one hand, we have to focus on containing the virus , on the other on its impact on the society,” he noted.
He said medical staff around the world was fighting against the disease like their peers in Pakistan and asked them should the government go for complete lockdown but even this could not lead to the virus elimination.
The prime minister contended that had someone assured him that the virus would be eliminated in a month, two or even three, he would have exploited all possible resources and imposed lockdown. However, the lockdown would only prevent it from spreading but would not kill it.
On this context, he referred to the experiences witnessed in Wuhan, South Korea and Singapore, where complete lockdown was imposed and when relaxed, there was spike in virus cases again there.
He pointed out that Pakistan despite having limited resources, gave a stimulus package of $8 billion people, whereas the US allocated $2,200 billion dollars and Japan $1,000 billion for this purpose.
Imran Khan emphasised the situation of lockdown in Pakistan was different from advanced countries. “Here, we have to save our people against starvation as well. If the lockdown persisted, then there will be greater threat of people dying more of hunger than the virus,” he argued.
He explained that according to a labour force survey, 25 million people were daily wage earners in 2017 and 2018 in Pakistan and relied on their daily wage or weekly earnings, which meant around 150 million persons were being affected, as they were sitting idle.
“Our medical community may tell us, what we should do about them. For how long can we give way Rs12,000 and for how long is this enough for them,” he asked. He noted that the most advanced countries like the United States and China and Germany could not opt for the continuous lockdown.
As per the estimates of the National Command and Operation Centre, the prime minister said the cases of corona would increase in Pakistan in the coming days, but we also have to protect our people from hunger.
He said the number of deaths due to the coronavirus in Pakistan was less than the projections. He explained that by May 14, the confirmed virus cases were projected to be 52,695 and 1,324 deaths, but the cases registered by this date were 35,700 and 770 deaths, adding by the mercy of Allah and the government measures and masses cooperation, both the virus cases and deaths were far less than projected.
The prime minister emphasized again that people would have to discipline themselves as a responsible nation to prevent fast spread of the virus, by strictly observing the precautionary measures and SOPs by businesspersons and mill and factory owners.
He added that this would also put less burden on the health services. The government, he said, would further ease down the lockdown, if people continued cooperation and disciplined themselves.
He said, “We are opening businesses to restart economic activity but people must follow the SOPs given by the government, including social distancing and hand washing and wearing of masks”.
Imran Khan said the Corona Relief Tiger Force would help provide ration to people as well as sensitize them to the precautionary measures. He announced that the cash transfers from PM Corona Relief Fund would be started from Monday next to those, who had lost jobs or had no livelihood.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, who heads the NCOC, said the objective of prime minister and the government departments was to facilitate people in their livelihood opportunities and urged the media to also highlight this aspect of the crisis while heaping praise on it for its leading role in the given pandemic situation.
He said a visible difference had been witnessed from the day the lockdown was eased and afterwards, as after initial carelessness, more people were seen wearing masks and following the SOPs in markets and elsewhere.
The cornerstone of prime minister’s corona policy, he pointed out, was to strike a balance in preventing spread of the virus and saving weaker segments from the lockdown impact.
He said the precautionary steps and the government measures were paying off by the mercy of Allah and the government had also increased its health capacity by 27 per cent as compared to where it stood in mid-March.
Federal Minister for Industries Hammad Azhar said in first phase of lockdown pharmaceutical and essential items shops were allowed to work for the facilitation of people while in the second phase construction industry was opened so that people could work and earn their wages.
He said in third phase vehicle and motorcycle manufacturing companies had been allowed to reopen from Monday next on the condition of strict compliance with SOPs, whereas the decision to open large shopping malls had been left to provinces.
Speaking on the occasion, Special Assistant on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza said 100,000 health workers, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics, would be trained for correct use of personal protection equipment (PPE) and the first phase of this training will be completed in four weeks.
He said another 5,000 intensive care unit workers will be trained to handle corona patients. Dr. Mirza noted it was great achievement for the country that a Pakistani pharmaceutical company had concluded its voluntary licensing agreement with a US pharmaceutical company for the manufacture and sale of Remdesivir.
He said this agreement also allows Pakistan to export the medicine to 127 countries facing corona pandemic. Special assistant on Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar said category four of Ehsaas Emergency Cash program would start from Monday.
She said category four was for the people who had lost their jobs due to COVID-19. She said under this category, around 34,000 applications have been received so far. She said deserving people could register themselves for this category on pmo.gov.pk.
She said the final decision for the applicants who have registered themselves through message service on 8171 for Ehsaas Emergency Cash would be made on Monday. The successful applicants will get their verifications via short message service on Monday.
Focal Person on the coronavirus Dr. Faisal Sultan emphasized that side by side fighting the virus, there was a need to also deal with other diseases like TB while so far two campaigns for polio immunization could not be held, saying this would also result in health challenges, including the maternity and child mortality issues. He cited some global projections also.
Special Assistant on National Security Division Moeed Yousif said more than 23,000 stranded Pakistanis in different countries has been brought back so far. He said keeping in view the best international practices, 48 hour quarantine condition has been removed and now our capacity to bring back Pakistani expatriates has increased.
He noted that as per directions of the prime minister, 11000-12000 people would be brought back every week, adding our top priority is to help stranded poor workers and laborers in Gulf States.