PESHAWAR                   -                         Five crewmembers of the Pakistan International Airlines, including two pilots, were tested positive for coronavirus on Monday, a day after Pakistan Air Line Pilots Association (PALPA) directed its members to stop flying planes amid reports that the flights have weak anti-coronavirus arrangements.

Sources in the PIA told The Nation that Captain Farrukh Mirza, Captain Najib Amin Captain Faisal Hayat, Flight Steward M Rizwan and Airhostess Afia Sarfraz were quarantined after testing positive for the virus. The crew had landed in Pakistan from a flight of Canada two days ago.

Earlier on Sunday, a formal notice issued by the general secretary of PALPA stated that because of poor safety measures, the PALPA asks members to stop flying planes. Even after the announcement of pilots union to stop working, the contractual pilots, who are not members of the union, continue their services and operating flights.

The national flag carrier is continuing the flights although all other airlines have suspended operations amid the ongoing coronavirus emergency. A PIA steward, Waqas Jahangir, was the first PIA employee who contracted coronavirus a few days ago and later his wife also tested positive for the contagion.

A senior pilot, Umar Khayam, told this correspondent that he himself was on leave and had isolated himself in his home and not going on flights. “I have taken leave and I am at my home for the last 20 days as part of precautionary measures. But I can’t comment on what is going on in PIA nowadays,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, the crew of an international flight was picked by the health department workers for coronavirus testing. The crew had in fact performed on the same plane that had brought around 21 corona positive passengers three days ago. Another member of the flights operation said that the pressurization system in flights can infect all passengers onboard.

“In a plane at thousands of feet altitude in the skies, the normal earth pressure and atmosphere is artificially maintained through pressurization system, which uses a device. Even if one passenger is a corona positive, he or she through exhaling and sneezing can infect all passengers onboard because there is no fresh air but the same atmosphere is being consumed by all in the plane for hours,” he added.

He said that some tickets for the UK were even sold for over Rs0.3 million each. “If PIA is running flights for public welfare amid the corona emergency, why they exploit passengers by overcharging them for tickets,” he questioned.

A pilot also said that the plane is a capsule and there is no fresh air. “In a plane, there is more chance of contracting coronavirus because the same atmosphere is used by all passengers. Also, the planes are not being disinfected properly by the PIA management,” he added.

When contacted, PIA General Manager Public Relations Abdullah confirmed that five positive coronavirus cases among PIA employees, including two pilots, were reported on Monday. However, he said the PIA flights will continue as he claimed the management was providing standard protective gear to the staff on flights.

To query, he also said the airlines management tests the swabs of passengers before they board the plane. When told that swab testing requires much time and it may not be possible at the airport, he said: “We keep passengers in waiting at the airport for several hours and once we get their negative results, they are allowed to board the plane.”

He also said they were providing standard protective equipment to employees on flights. He also rejected the sales of international travel tickets on exorbitant prices, but admitted that they charge more on their special flights.