UAE flights: Pakistan airlines hope rapid PCR tests will be available soon

Some UAE residents remain stranded in Pakistan as many of its airports do not offer the rapid test, which is required to fly back to the Emirates

Follow the latest updates on the Covid-19 pandemic here

Pakistani airlines are hopeful rapid Covid-19 PCR tests will be widely available to passengers travelling to the UAE by the end of this week.

Many UAE residents remain stranded in Pakistan, despite the reopening of inbound flights for residents that meet Covid-19 travel rules.

A rapid PCR test taken at the airport four hours prior departure is among the requirements to travel to the Emirates, but most airports in Pakistan do not have those facilities available.

Sohail Nazar, UAE country manager at Pakistani airline Airblue, said that they were working with authorities to make the tests available to passengers.

“We, and I believe all airlines, are working hard to make the test available at airports,” he told The National.

“The issue was that the rapid PCR test has to be taken from the airport, so we’re trying to make those facilities available to passengers.

“We’re working with authorities and are hoping the facilities would be available widely by the end of this week.”

Passengers arriving from Pakistan also need a negative PCR test taken from an approved lab 48 hours before departure, a UAE-issued Covid-19 certificate and approval from relevant UAE authorities.

Travel restrictions were eased on August 3 and also apply to passengers arriving from India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Nepal and Uganda.

The entry of most passengers from India had been barred since April 25 because of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19. A few weeks later travellers Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda were also prohibited from flying to the Emirates.

A handful of exemptions allowed diplomatic staff, stranded Emiratis and golden visa holders to return on flights.

So far in Pakistan, only Sialkot International Airport has the rapid PCR test available on site for passengers travelling to the UAE.

The airport has collaborated with Pakistan’s Citilab and Research Centre to make the tests available.

“When the travel requirements were first announced, a rapid antigen test was required, but now it is the rapid PCR test result that is needed,” Mr Nazar said.

The antigen test measures the presence of antibodies, with results produced in 20 minutes. The PCR test, a nasal swab, has been the standard testing method in most countries to diagnose the Covid-19 virus.

The few residents who managed to return to the UAE with a rapid antigen test said they were relieved to be back home.

Residents glad to be back in UAE

Dr Sanober Imran Ansari returned to her home in Sharjah on August 7 after meeting all of the travel requirements, including a rapid antigen test result that she took at a Karachi airport, which was valid at the time.

“I went to Pakistan on July 17 as my mother was severely ill. After she passed away, I had been trying to return to the UAE, but could not since flights were closed. Now that flights have been reopened, I am very relieved to have been able to come back home to my family,” Dr Ansari said.

“My husband, kids and job were here in the UAE while I was stranded in Pakistan with one of my daughters, and with every passing day it kept getting more stressful until I was finally able to return home.”

Aasia Danish, another Sharjah resident, was also able to return earlier this week with a rapid antigen test.

She had travelled to Pakistan for her sister’s wedding, but was stranded there for nearly a month because of the flight suspension.

“I’m relieved to be back home with my husband. I was gone for a month but … it felt like we were apart for ages,” Ms Danish said.

“It was a very stressful situation for me, my kids and my husband.”

Covid-19 vaccination in Pakistan — in pictures

Updated: August 11th 2021, 11:38 AM