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Pakistan bans flights from 6 African countries, Hong Kong

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ISLAMABAD: National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) has restricted flights from six South African countries and Hong Kong following the emergence of a new coronavirus variant Omicron.

In a tweet on Saturday Head of NCOC Asad Umar said, “Based on the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant, notification has been issued to restrict travel from 6 South African countries and Hong Kong.”

He added, “The emergence of the new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older.”

The NCOC in a separate statement said that consequent to the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in South Africa and its spread to adjoining regions complete ban has been imposed on direct and indirect inbound travel from South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana. The aforementioned countries have also been included in “Category C” as per the NCOC.

Pakistani passengers traveling from these countries in an extreme emergency will only be allowed after obtaining exemptions and following health/testing protocols will be ensured for these passengers which include vaccination certificate, Negative PCR report (maximum 72 hours old) before boarding, RAT (rapid antigen test) on arrival at the airport.

Moreover, the NCOC said the RAT negative cases will undergo three days of mandatory home quarantine and re-RAT will be conducted on the third day by the civil administration. Whereas, the RAT positive cases will undergo 10 days mandatory quarantine (government/self-paid) and a PCR test will be conducted on the 10th day in quarantine.

However, to facilitate stranded Pakistanis, travel from these countries till December 5, will be allowed without exemption but the above-mentioned health/testing protocols will remain applicable, it added.

“Aviation Division/Airport Management/ASF only devises a mechanism for screening of passengers traveling from above-mentioned countries through indirect flights and shares with all concerned by November 29, 21.”

A day earlier, one of Asia’s largest airlines, Cathay Pacific, was forced to cancel some of its passenger flights to Hong Kong after some of its crews refused to follow the carrier’s quarantine rules.

Hong Kong is trying to pursue a “Covid-zero” strategy in a push to reopen its border with mainland China. As Hong Kong’s home carrier, Cathay Pacific has been eager to assist authorities in this move, asking its cabin crews and pilots to volunteer for a so-called “closed-loop” system in December. This involved working for three weeks in a row, staying in Hong Kong only briefly, before a two-week quarantine on their return.

However, the company appears to have had too few volunteers to operate this schedule as many want to be home for Christmas. This means that one-third of the carrier’s flights will now be converted to freight instead of passenger transportation.

“The operational and travel restrictions that remain in place continue to constrain our ability to operate flights as planned. We are consolidating our passenger flight schedule for December 2021, including canceling a number of flights to Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific said. The company will arrange alternative bookings on remaining passenger flights to accommodate clients whose flights were canceled.

Despite Hong Kong’s strict quarantine regulations, Covid-19 cases keep reappearing, with three Cathay Pacific cargo pilots recently testing positive after arriving from Frankfurt. Two cases of the new southern African Covid-19 variant, which has already caused several EU states to reintroduce travel restrictions, have also been found in travelers under quarantine, Hong Kong’s Department of Health announced on Friday.

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