Pakistan will allow outbound international flights to resume from today, an aviation official said, after largely closing its airspace to commercial flights to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yesterday’s announcement came on the day the South Asian nation reported the largest one-day spread of the infection, with 2,636 cases and 57 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Pakistan has recorded a total of 64,028 cases.
De facto health minister Dr Zafar Mirza, the special assistant to the prime minister for health, has expressed fears that the national caseload will rise sharply in coming weeks.
Officials have raised concerns over the limited capacity of the healthcare system to cope with testing or quarantining a sudden wave of returning nationals should inbound flights resume.
Pakistan lifted almost all lockdown restrictions earlier this month.
The suspension of inbound international flights has stranded more than 100,000 Pakistanis around the world, mostly overseas workers in the Middle East.
“Both national and foreign airlines shall be allowed to operate from all international airports of Pakistan,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, senior joint secretary at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said in a statement, adding that flights would be allowed from today.
Two remote airports in southern Baluchistan province will be exempted from the operations, he said.
“The airlines... may carry passengers from Pakistan to international destinations,” Khokhar said, adding that flights to Pakistan could carry cargo but not passengers.
The government had decided not to allow airlines to bring passengers into the country due to the still-rising numbers of new coronavirus infections, he said.
A special operation by the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to bring them back at a controlled pace is to continue the despite ban on the inbound flights, Khokhar said.
International and local flights have been suspended since March, with exemptions for some flights to enable international repatriation in and out of Pakistan.
Domestic operations had already resumed this month.
Those flights included a PIA Airbus A320 that crashed into a residential neighbourhood of Karachi on May 22, killing 97 on board.
Two passengers survived.
Despite a rising rate of infection, Pakistan has rolled back almost all lockdown measures, primarily to avert an economic meltdown.
Khokhar, however, said the passengers will have to follow standard precautions to help contain the virus for both the local and the international flights.
Meanhwile, a pharmaceutical company in Pakistan plans to import the antiviral drug remdesivir, which has shown promise in treating coronavirus patients, from neighbouring Bangladesh, it said in a stock exchange filing yesterday.
The Searle Company Limited announced that it had entered into an exclusive licensing and marketing agreement with Bangladesh’s Beximco Pharmaceuticals, the first company in the world to introduce the generic variant of remdesivir.
“Searle Pharma is planning to import remdesivir in finished form (ready to use) to meet the country’s urgent requirements,” the company told the Pakistan Stock Exchange.
Remdesivir, a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, has grabbed attention as one of the most promising treatments for Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, which has killed more than 350,000 people globally.
This month, Ferozsons Pharma announced that it would make the drug in Pakistan after signing a non-exclusive licensing pact with Gilead to make and sell the drug to 127 nations, but it warned that production could take “weeks”.
Searle said the Bangladesh imports would ensure an immediate supply of the drug at an affordable price, helping to eliminate treatment delays by Pakistan’s healthcare providers.
Gilead’s patent gives the US company exclusive rights to make the antiviral.
However, global trade rules allow nations defined by the United Nations as least-developed countries (LDCs) to ignore the patent and make such drugs more affordable in their markets.
Bangladesh is one of 47 countries that fall under this category.
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