Expats making a return and those seeking job opportunities are ensuring the Pakistan to UAE flights are running full, with Karachi-Dubai route being the ninth busiest in the world this month.

But with Omicron-related precautions being employed by many countries, airline and travel industry sources are keeping their fingers crossed that the current demand patterns on these flights will be maintained.

“Pakistani expat workers are back on this route in search of better opportunities and there’s a lot of Expo-related corporate travel as well,” said a spokesperson for Al Badie Travel Agency. “Tourist numbers, however, will need more time to pick up pace.”

Some travel agents say that the cost of Rapid PCR tests at Pakistan airports could be deterring leisure travel. UAE-bound passengers are required to take a test six hours prior to departure and that costs around 5,000 Pakistani rupees (Dh102). “These days, only UAE-bound passengers have to undergo rapid PCR,” said a source from Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

“Omicron’s trajectory will decide whether there will be more travel restrictions – NCOC (National Command and Operation Centre) is looking into it.”

Recently, Pakistan issued new instructions for inbound passengers travelling from the UAE, limiting the PCR test validity to not more than 48 hours. For travellers from the UK, Pakistan’s regulators require them to take a Rapid antigen test on arrival. This is in addition to the mandatory vaccination and negative PCR test pre-boarding protocols already in place.

Passengers unhappy

The decision to tighten restrictions has not gone down well with everyone. Some passengers took to social media to express their displeasure.

“This has created great difficulty for overseas Pakistanis,” said a user on Twitter. “A COVID-19 report takes around 36 hours, so the margin (for error) is almost nil – if a flight is delayed, we will not be allowed to board.”

Another user said: “Omicron is in over 20 countries already! Why can Pakistan not implement strict protocols for everyone instead of categorizing them? COVID doesn’t know borders and passports!”

With signs of community transmission growing of the latest variant, Pakistan could use the UK approach and remove all countries from its ‘Category-C’, which requires passengers arriving from some destinations to obtain an ‘exemption certificate’ and undergo mandatory quarantine.

As per a Gulf News report, Pakistan has reported a number of suspected cases of Omicron from its Southwestern province Balochistan. The report, which cites health officials, said the province had sent samples of some 32 COVID-19 positive case samples. Of these, 12 had exhibited signs of Omicron.

The first suspected case of Omicron variant in Islamabad was confirmed by the National Institute of Health (NIH) on Sunday last. The patient, 47, had no prior international travel history and was placed in quarantine.

Fares hold steady

A non-stop direct flight from Lahore to Dubai cost between Dh1,500 to Dh2,500. Meanwhile, seats on a flight from Karachi can be booked for a little over Dh1,000.

Those to the capital Islamabad are on the expensive side with most airlines charging Dh2,000 or more for a one-way flight to Dubai. As for flights to Pakistan from here, they are a lot cheaper with a seat to Peshawar costing passengers just Dh300. Due to the high demand, Karachi and Lahore cost over Dh600 on certain days.

Travel rules (for Dubai)

For passengers arriving in Dubai from Pakistan, it is mandatory that the COVID-19 RT PCR report includes a QR code linked to the original report for verification purposes.

The QR code must be presented at check in and to representatives of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) upon arrival in Dubai airports.

Requirements for passengers from these countries arriving in Dubai or using Dubai connect:

• A valid negative COVID-19 PCR test certificate with a QR code for a test conducted within 48 hours, validity should be calculated from the time the sample was collected, prior to departure from an approved health facility.

• A Rapid COVID-19 PCR test report with a QR code for a test conducted at the departure airport within six hours of departure.