Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: Pakistan resuming some domestic flights between multiple cities from May 16; domestic measures, international flight ban continues.

This alert affects Pakistan

This alert began 12 May 2020 16:01 GMT and is scheduled to expire 29 May 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Date: Indefinite
  • Impact: Increased security, significant transport and business disruptions

Summary
Pakistan authorities are resuming some domestic flights between five cities from May 16 as part of plans to gradually ease restrictions introduced to control the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Officials will resume 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.

Authorities have reduced business restrictions as of May 15; most retail businesses, except malls, 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, continues nationwide. Regional variations are certain; Balochistan Province has ruled out any relaxation until at least 1200 May 19.

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. Officials have suspended all passenger bus and train services indefinitely; inter-district and inter-provincial transport remain limited to 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.

Protests - particularly by healthcare workers, merchants, and religious groups - 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. Merchants may demonstrate outside government offices and markets if provincial authorities fail to implement recommended relaxations; some religious groups have announced they will defy any orders to close places of worship. 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 international commercial passenger flights until at least May 31; further restrictions are likely. 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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