UAE flights: Pakistan authority requests govt to consider antigen tests for returning expats


Dubai - Thousands remain stranded because there are no rapid testing facilities at their local airports.


Dhanusha Gokulan

Published: Sat 7 Aug 2021, 7:16 PM

Last updated: Sat 7 Aug 2021, 10:00 PM

The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has appealed to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to request the UAE Government to consider results from antigen tests instead of rapid PCR tests, which are mandatory for passengers flying into the Emirates.

Antigen and PCR tests: What’s the difference?

Even as the UAE eased restrictions for expats returning from Pakistan, thousands remain stranded because there are no rapid testing facilities at their local airports.

In a letter addressed to several officials, including Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the CAA has said: “While we may ensure that passengers from Pakistan hold a valid negative PCR test conducted 48 hours prior to the commencement of travel to Dubai, we cannot provide a rapid PCR test facility to departing passengers to Dubai as it is currently unavailable in Pakistan.”

It added: “However, in lieu, Dubai terminating passengers from Pakistan may be tested at our airports using rapid antigen testing conducted within six hours prior to departure of flight for Dubai and any subsequent PCR testing may be undertaken upon arrival in Dubai.”

The letter has been signed by Suleman Ghouri, assistant director of air transport at the CAA. A similar Press release — issued by its official spokesperson Saad bin Ayub — stated: “A significant number of Pakistani passengers have been denied travel from Pakistan to Dubai.”

“Considering the importance of the travel requirement of our passengers between Pakistan and Dubai, it is submitted that the above-stated matter may be taken up with the relevant UAE Authorities on priority, please and the UAE Authorities may be urged to reconsider their policy on inbound passengers from Pakistan to Dubai,” the letter added.

Last week, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) announced that fully vaccinated residence visa holders from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda can return to the country starting August 5. Furthermore, the residents should have taken both jabs of the vaccine in the UAE.

Some categories of travellers — including healthcare workers, teachers, students, Expo 2020 workers, and humanitarian cases — are being given permission to travel without getting a vaccine. Pre-travel approvals from relevant immigration authorities, depending on the emirate they are flying to, has also been made mandatory.

Stranded Pakistani expats, however, have not been able to return to the UAE. Many of them have taken their appeals to Twitter.

In an urgent request to the government of Pakistan, actor and activist Fakhr-e-Alam has said: “While we wait to resolve matters of rapid PCR test availability with Pakistan health authorities, I humbly request that private labs be allowed to conduct rapid tests on passengers at the airport. Passengers can be charged for the service.”

Dr Omar Chugtai, a pathologist and lab director at Chugtai Lab, said: “Rapid PCR test is not available widely in Pakistan. My recommendation is to reduce the window for a pre-travel PCR test to within 24 hours before the flight. This will reduce the risk of incubation period false-negative cases, without the need for any additional tests.”

Sohail Nazar, country manager for the UAE at AirBlue, told Khaleej Times, that they have been trying to find a solution.

“We are working on resolving the issue. For a day or two, we’ve had residents return to Dubai; however, since the day the authorities in UAE made it mandatory (for passengers) to have a rapid RT-PCR test, we have not been able to carry a single passenger from Pakistan since. However, rapid antigen test facilities are available in all major airports in Pakistan.”

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