Pakistan starts repatriating UAE-based nationals stranded by coronavirus

The first Pakistan International Airlines flight left on April 18, 2020. PHOTO: PAREPDUBAI/TWITTER

DUBAI (REUTERS) - Pakistan has started repatriating some of its citizens from the United Arab Emirates, which had threatened to review labour ties with countries refusing to take back their nationals during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The first Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight carrying 227 "stranded passengers" from Dubai and other emirates left for Islamabad on Saturday (April 18) evening, Pakistan's consulate general in Dubai said in a Twitter post.

It was not clear when other flights would depart. More than 40,000 Pakistanis in the Gulf Arab state have registered with the consulate to return home, two UAE newspapers reported.

The UAE and other Gulf states have reported increased infections among low-income migrant workers who live in overcrowded quarters. Some have moved to re-house them in shuttered schools or dedicated centres, and are trying to arrange flights to repatriate them.

On Sunday the UAE announced 479 new cases and four more deaths, bringing its total to 6,781 cases and 41 deaths so far.

The UAE last week said it would review labour relations with states refusing to evacuate citizens, including those who have lost jobs or been put on leave, after the ambassadors of India and Pakistan said their countries were not yet ready to do so.

PIA said on its website that it would not be able to provide services for inbound flights beyond Islamabad International Airport due to suspension of domestic flights and a lockdown in the country.

Millions of foreign workers, many from Asia, form the backbone of Gulf economies and work in sectors that have been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The pandemic is also likely to disrupt the significant remittances those workers send back to their home countries.

The total infection count in the six Gulf states has risen steadily to more than 26,600, with 167 deaths, despite containment measures such as halting passenger flights, curfews and in several cases locking down districts with large populations of low-income expatriate workers.

Saudi Arabia, which has the most infections and deaths among Gulf Cooperation Council states, at 9,362 and 97, recorded a record 1,088 new cases in 24 hours. It said 83 per cent of the new confirmed cases were non-Saudi nationals.

Kuwait's 90-year-old ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, on Sunday addressed the nation to welcome back the first group of Kuwaitis returned home under a new repatriation programme.

He urged them to comply with all isolation and quarantine guidelines given by authorities in the Gulf state, which has recorded seven deaths, including one on Sunday, and almost 2,000 cases of the infection.

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