Islamabad, Pakistan, Mar 21 – Pakistan announced Saturday it is suspending for a fortnight all international passenger flights into and out of the country in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“We are suspending international flight operations effective tonight at 8:00 pm (1500 GMT),” the prime minister’s special assistant on national security, Moeed Yusuf, told an Islamabad press briefing.
“No international flights will be allowed to land in Pakistan for two weeks.”
As of Saturday, Pakistan had tested 4,046 people for the virus, with 524 positive cases and three deaths.
Yusuf said a few flights already en route to Pakistan would be able to land Sunday morning, adding that diplomats coming to Pakistan as well as cargo planes would be exempted.
According to Yusuf, the suspension will “certainly create problems”, as Pakistan was expecting more than 200,000 passengers, including tourists, by end of March.
Observers fear the virus could spread quickly in the country of 215 million people, where health care is frequently inadequate.
Pakistan’s porous borders, creaking hospitals, a culture of shaking hands and hugging, and large illiterate populations in crowded urban centres mean containing the crisis could be a huge challenge.
To prevent the virus’s transmission, Islamabad has closed the Afghan and Iranian borders, shuttered wedding halls shuttered, and stoped schools for the remainder of the month.
But Prime Minister Imran Khan said early this week Pakistan cannot afford the type of urban lockdowns currently underway in the West.
Pakistan has a history of failing to contain infectious diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and hepatitis.