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Coronavirus: Pakistan worried by high number of infected returning from UAE

Hundreds of people testing positive for the virus have come back on flights from the Emirates and elsewhere in the Gulf
A man is seen through a thermal camera at Dubai International Airport (Reuters)

Pakistan has raised concerns with the United Arab Emirates after a high proportion of Pakistanis returning from the UAE have arrived with coronavirus.

On Monday, Pakistan said out of 209 nationals repatriated on a 28 April Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi, at least 105 had tested positive for the virus.

It was the latest large influx of infected Pakistanis from the Gulf, as Islamabad seeks to repatriate citizens stuck abroad during the pandemic.

Hundreds of people returning from the Gulf, and the UAE in particular, have tested positive for Covid-19 or been quarantined.

Pakistan is concerned that the virus is spreading fast in crowded migrant worker communities in the Gulf. Around 1.5 million Pakistanis live in the UAE. Many are low-paid workers now out of work.

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"It has been taken up officially with UAE authorities," foreign ministry spokeswoman Aisha Farooqui told Reuters via WhatsApp. "Both govts are working together to find [an] optimal solution to this shared concern."

The UAE, which relies heavily on migrant labourers, whose population dwarfs the number of Emirati nationals, has warned countries that diplomatic relations could be affected if efforts are not made to repatriate citizens.

Around 60,000 Pakistanis have registered to be flown home, where authorities are struggling to quarantine the thousands of returnees.

According to Moeed Yusuf, special assistant to prime minister on national security, 15,000-16,000 Pakistanis have been repatriated, and on certain flights a “majority” of passengers were infected with the virus.

"We have now formally taken this up with the UAE government," he told Geo News, adding that the rate of returnees may have to be reduced if as many passengers continue to test positive.

The United Arab Emirates is ramping up testing as it begins to ease its severe lockdown restrictions.

On Monday, Abu Dhabi's government media office tweeted that a new screening facility in the industrial Musaffah area, where many migrant labourers work and live, is being set up to test 335,000 people over two weeks.

“The initiative will also increase awareness of preventative measures to minimise the risk of contracting the virus,” it said.

The UAE has reported 15,192 infections and 146 deaths overall.