Pakistani-Americans returned via three charter flights to the United States in the past three days when the last flight departed from Islamabad airport to Washington with 254 passengers on Sunday. In total so far they are around 800 in number.
After the Pakistani government granted permission, the US Embassy in Islamabad arranged special flights for those who wanted to return to America with their families.
The government had given the US embassy permission to operate three charter flights, two from Islamabad and one from Karachi, to repatriate American citizens on April 10, 11 and 12.
Permission to operate the three special flights was subject to government SOPs in the existing circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, as both the Karachi and Islamabad airports were not permitted to disembark the flight crew or passengers from the aircraft.
Pakistan suspended all international passenger, charter and private inbound flights to Pakistan on March 21. On April 9, the restrictions were extended to April 21. Domestic flights are also suspended.
The US embassy, in coordination with the managers concerned, had set up counters for moderation services in the reception areas of the airports.
When the travelers approached the US relief desk at Islamabad Airport, the officers concerned scanned passengers and carried out other health checks. Later the immigration staff of the Federal Investigation Office completed the immigration process.
“The US mission to Pakistan received thousands of requests for the flights April 10-12. We couldn’t accommodate everyone and the seats were prioritized for those most at risk for Covid-19, ”said a statement from the US embassy in Islamabad.
The most vulnerable include those aged 65 and over and those in this group with previous health problems such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease.
Diplomatic sources in Washington say the flights would bring about a thousand US citizens from Pakistan, while future flights were also planned.
U.S. officials have asked U.S. citizens still in Pakistan to return to the U.S. to sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and receive notifications and updates on flight availability.
“If we can offer additional charter flights, US citizens should be ready to leave on short notice and with limited baggage,” an official statement said. Those who refused the offer were asked to “be ready to stay in Pakistan indefinitely”.
In the meantime, US President Donald Trump has issued a memo asking all nations to accept their citizens deported during the pandemic. Countries that reject their citizens are denied a US visa.
“Countries that refuse to accept or delay inappropriately accepting their citizens, subjects, nationals, or residents from the United States during the ongoing SAREM CoV-2 pandemic pose unacceptable public health risks to Americans,” Trump wrote in the memo.