Emirates has suspended regularly scheduled passenger services from Pakistan after a slew of passengers were found to be infected with the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus. The Dubai-based airline only resumed flights from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in Pakistan on June 8 but moved to quickly suspend those flights in the early hours of Wednesday morning because of the risk posed by passengers infected with the novel Coronavirus.
Yesterday, it was revealed that 26 passengers on a single Emirates flight were found to be infected with COVID-19. All of the passengers had travelled on EK380 on June 20 from Dubai to Hong Kong and were subsequently tested and quarantined as a condition of entry into the city.
Several days before, on June 16, Hong Kong public health officials found 10 passengers on the same Emirates flight suffering from COVID-19 and on June 21, positive Coronavirus tests were returned for 19 passengers who had just arrived in Hong Kong aboard an Emirates flight from Dubai.
Nearly all of the passengers found to have COVID-19 have been confirmed as transiting through Dubai International Airport after spending a period of time in Pakistan. The majority were asymptomatic at the time of testing but several were displaying classic COVID-19 symptoms like a persistent cough and fever.
According to John Hopkins University data, Pakistan has so far detected nearly 189,000 COVID-19 cases and registered 3,755 deaths from the virus.
While Hong Kong conducts extensive testing and mandatory quarantines on all new arrivals, it’s not known where other passengers who travelled on Emirates’ flights from Pakistan could have ended up in the world.
An Emirates spokesperson told us that the airline would not restart services until a review had been carried out and additional safety measures put in place.
“Following the announcement of positive COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong relating to certain passengers who travelled on our flights, Emirates has taken the decision to temporarily suspend passenger services from Pakistan, from 24 June 04:00 Pakistan LT,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“We are coordinating closely with the various authorities and will review and implement any required additional measures to satisfy all parties before we resume services from Pakistan,” the statement continued.
“The health and safety of our crew, customers and communities remains our top priority. Emirates has put in place a comprehensive set of measures at every step of the customer journey on the ground and in the air, to minimise the risk of infection spread.”
Those measures include mandating passengers to wear a face mask throughout their entire journey and dressing cabin crew in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Social distancing is enforced onboard its flights and at Dubai International Airport (DXB) where passengers also have to undergo mandatory thermal screening. The airline has created a special website which explains what measures it has put in place which can be found here.
“We remain committed to serving our customers in Pakistan and are working hard to resume services as soon as possible,” the spokesperson explained. “In the meantime Emirates will continue to operate repatriation flights into Pakistan as per the announced schedule, and operate cargo services that support the trade and movement of goods between Pakistan, UAE and our global network.”
Dubai will allow foreign tourists to return to the emirate from July 7 in a major easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions but visitors will have to present a negative Coronavirus test certificate dated within four days of travel. Tourists will also be able to get a test on arrival and those who test positive will be placed into a government-run institutional quarantine facility at their own expense.
Transit passengers passing through Dubai International Airport are subject to thermal screening but this may not detect asymptomatic cases or passengers who have taken fever reducing medication.
There is still no evidence to suggest an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard an aircraft. Airline lobby groups argue the risk of catching the virus from another passenger remains very low but additional measures like mask-wearing will help reduce that risk even further.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.