Pakistani airlines, from Wednesday, May 5, are restricted to operating only 20% of their Summer 2021 schedule following an upsurge in COVID-19 cases in the country.

The measure, aimed at containing a third wave of the pandemic, will be reviewed on May 18, 2021, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) announced in a statement.

From May 5, all passengers will be required to undergo rapid antigen testing upon arrival at airports in Pakistan, the PCAA said. The country has also closed its land border with Iran and Afghanistan, except for trade.

Airlines affected include PIA - Pakistan International Airlines (PK, Islamabad Quaid-e-Azam Int'l), AirBlue (PA, Karachi Int'l), AirSial (PF, Karachi Int'l), and Serene Air (ER, Islamabad Quaid-e-Azam Int'l), according to the ch-aviation PRO airlines module. By May 4, neither had made any official announcement concerning schedule changes, although AirSial was advertising the start of flights between Karachi Int'l and Peshawar on May 8, 2021.

The restrictions came as the country prepared to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which usually sees the mass movement of people between cities and villages as well as the return of migrant workers and overseas Pakistanis for celebrations. The government has banned travel between provinces over Eid and has ordered the closure of hotels and tourist attractions.

Flights and land crossings with neighbouring India – itself reeling from a devastating outbreak with hundreds of thousands of new cases a day - were closed before the pandemic because of political tensions.

By May 4, Pakistan’s infection rate stood at 837,523 cases, 18,310 deaths, with 5,326 people in critical condition and 3,377 new cases in the last 24-hours.