Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: Pakistan authorizes outbound international passenger flights from May 30. Other COVID-19 control measures continue.

This alert affects Pakistan

This alert began 29 May 2020 16:33 GMT and is scheduled to expire 11 Jun 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Increased security, significant transport and business disruptions

Summary
Pakistan authorities are permitting outbound international passenger flights from May 30. Outbound international services will be allowed to resume at all international airports in the country except those serving Gwadar (GWD) and Turbat (TUK). Inbound international commercial passenger flights remain banned.

Additional transport and commercial restrictions remain in place nationwide as of May 29 due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The federal government has relaxed some measures but concerns regarding new outbreaks have led to some provinces continuing transport, commercial, and gathering restrictions. Authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province are imposing commercial restrictions, allowing shops to open between Mondays and Thursdays 1000-1700. Barbershops and beauty salons can operate between Fridays and Sundays. Essential stores are exempted from the measures. Balochistan Province authorities extended restrictions through June 2. Officials have banned public gatherings as well as inter-city and inter-provincial travel.

Although the federal government is allowing inter-district public ground transport to resume nationwide, transport services are required to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs), which include transport operating at 50 percent capacity and passengers paying reduced fares. Services have resumed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province; however, provincial restrictions and civilian protests are disrupting normalization across all other regions. Sindh and Balochistan provincial governments, as well as transport providers, are refusing to resume transport due to disagreement with some of the SOPs as well as due to concerns that resumed transport could cause further outbreaks of COVID-19. In addition, although the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is allowing transport to resume, authorities are not widely enforcing SOPs. The federal government has also allowed shopping malls and markets to reopen nationwide, albeit while following SOPs that regulate when the shops can be open.

Authorities have resumed some domestic flights between airports serving Karachi (KHI), Lahore (LHE), Islamabad (ISB), Peshawar (PEW), and Quetta (UET). Passengers will be required to fill in a health declaration form detailing travel history and current health status. Authorities will conduct health screenings of people at boarding and only allow passengers to fill 50 percent of plane seats. Officials may resume flights at airports in other cities in the coming days as the government continues to relax restrictions.

Officials have recently reduced business restrictions; most retail businesses are functioning in addition to ongoing operations related to the agriculture, construction, electronic commerce, energy, export, manufacturing, mining, and software sectors. All permitted businesses must implement hygiene and social distancing measures. Movement control; a ban on social and public gatherings, except for congregational prayers; and the closure of public spaces, such as educational institutions, tourist attractions, dine-in restaurants, public squares, and entertainment venues, continue nationwide. Regional variations will continue.

Local administration and security forces, including the army, are enforcing measures. The strictest guidelines are in effect in Sindh Province, which has banned congregational prayers despite federal approval for the opening of mosques that follow health precautions. Business restrictions on an establishment's capacity and hours of operation are likely to continue nationwide. Various provincial authorities have allowed most retail outlets and services, such as home repair, to operate, except in areas with reported COVID-19 clusters. As of May 28, authorities have not announced the resumption of inter-provincial travel, except for cargo, emergency, and official transit. Emergency and essential services, including healthcare and food suppliers, are available; outpatient services at clinics may restart in the coming days. Authorities have also reinstated movement restrictions in Azad Jammu and Kashmir due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. Although grocery stores and medical establishments can remain open, officials have suspended transport in the region until Eid al-Fitr and are encouraging residents to not leave their homes unnecessarily.

Protests, particularly by healthcare workers, religious groups, traders, and transport workers, are possible in the coming weeks. Healthcare workers have demonstrated occasionally to press for various demands, such as adequate protective equipment and the extension and stringent enforcement of social distancing measures in the community. Some religious groups have announced they will defy any orders to close places of worship. Protests are also likely outside government offices, transport hubs, and major traffic intersections, mainly in Sindh province, where strictest restrictions are in place. Protesting groups include traders opposed to prolonged business closures, and transport workers who are demanding relaxation of prescribed capacity limit, reduction in toll tax, as well as the rollback of fare discounts. Police could use force to disperse such gatherings, potentially prompting clashes.

Travel Restrictions
Pakistan is extending the validity of visas for foreign nationals in the country through June 30 amid an ongoing ban on inbound international commercial passenger flights. Cargo, emergency, and repatriation flights are unaffected.

While air travel restrictions remain in place, Pakistani authorities have begun opening border crossings with Iran and Afghanistan for trade - mainly of essential goods - and exchange of stranded citizens. Despite the borders reopening, cargo transit remains disrupted at Pakistan's land border crossings with Afghanistan and Iran. Officials have closed the Attari-Wagah border with India, except for repatriation. Bus and train services between India and Pakistan remain suspended. Any incoming travelers to the country, including Pakistani nationals, are advised to self-isolate for two weeks or are mandated to undergo a 14-day quarantine at home or in a medical facility, based on medical screening outcomes.

Background and Analysis
The measures adopted by the government are similar to actions taken by other regional governments in recent days in response to the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Advice
Confirm travel arrangements. Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all business appointments, deliveries, and travel arrangements. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Ensure access to essential items. Avoid all large gatherings; heed security and traffic advisories.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.


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