Exit flight from Pakistan gets the all-clear

Top News | Michael Shum 28 Apr 2020

Hundreds of stranded Hongkongers in Pakistan will be flown home in government-arranged charter flights as early as tomorrow while a mercy mission is also set for India next week.

It is estimated that around 600 people will be evacuated from among the more than 5,000 Hong Kong residents who became stranded after India and Pakistan banned all international flights late last month.

Each flight can accommodate about 300 people, who will have to pay HK$13,000 each to fly from New Delhi and HK$7,000 apiece from Islamabad, sources said.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the figures are not yet finalized and that the government is still looking for cheaper options.

"Passengers might not be able to afford a HK$10,000 flight, so the government is negotiating with other airlines to see if they can operate the flights at a lower price," he said.

Cheng added that priority will be given to patients with chronic diseases or in urgent need of medication, as well as pregnant women and children. "The initial plan is to assist Hong Kong residents in New Delhi, capital of India, and Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, and the surrounding areas," he quoted the government as saying.

The operation to fly Hongkongers from India will take around seven to 10 days after preparations are complete, while Pakistani flights take three to five days to prepare.

"India is still in full lockdown and movements within or going out of the country are restricted, so it will take longer to transport citizens to the airport," Cheng said.

"Pakistan, on the other hand, will be easier, as restrictions are not as strict and people can head to the airport on their own."

India has imposed strict restrictions on land and air traffic, with all travel requiring approval by authorities.

Islamabad has not imposed restrictions on domestic transportation, although all international flights have been banned.

In response to media inquiries, a government spokesman said that as of last Friday, the Immigration Department has successfully contacted about 3,200 Hong Kong residents stranded in India and 2,000 in Pakistan, "with a preliminary grasp of their basic personal particulars and whereabouts."

The spokesman added that the "residents contacted are scattered in different locations in India and Pakistan."

The government also said it will adopt a phased approach to the evacuation, factoring in quarantine arrangements for the returnees and the local capacities for testing and quarantine facilities.

As of yesterday, there are 1,700 quarantine units across all isolation facilities in Hong Kong and "over 80 percent of them are readily available for use," a spokesman for the Department of Health said.

michael.shum@singtaonewscorp.com

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