ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia held talks with the head of the Kingdom’s civil aviation authority on Sunday to apprise him of progress in the COVID-19 situation across the South Asian nation and its readiness to resume direct flights between the two countries.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bilal Akbar also briefed Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej, president of Saudi’s General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), of the “robust and successful” vaccination program to limit the outbreak, Pakistan’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia remain stranded at home due to travel and flight restrictions imposed by the Kingdom since last year.
In August, Saudi Arabia lifted an entry ban on expatriates from 20 countries, including Pakistan, with its Foreign Ministry saying the decision only applied to those individuals who had been fully vaccinated in Saudi Arabia before leaving for their home country.
“[The officials spoke about] resumption of direct flights for people vaccinated with first Covid-19 dose in the Kingdom and second in Pakistan with Saudi approved vaccines,” the Embassy said.
The officials also discussed prioritizing flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan.
Al-Duailej, for his part, assured ambassador Akbar that “the proposals will be considered favorably” after consultation with health authorities in the Kingdom, and a solution will be “worked out” to address the plight of Pakistanis stranded in Saudi.
It follows a meeting in July between the foreign ministers of the two countries who discussed how to ease COVID-19 travel curbs.
Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi took up the issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who was on a one-day visit to Pakistan.
The Kingdom’s direct entry ban was imposed after a global surge in cases linked to variants detected in England, South Africa and Brazil and fears that vaccines being rolled out worldwide might be less effective against them.
Those seeking to return to the Kingdom must undergo all health measures to ensure they are free from infection.
“Approval for PIA’s [Pakistan International Airline] arrangements for institutional quarantine in KSA to help facilitate direct flights for individuals vaccinated with Sinovac & Sinopharm,” the Embassy said.
Thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia annually, mainly for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah.
The Kingdom is home to over 2.5 Pakistanis who make the largest contribution to the country’s foreign remittances each year.