The increase of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan does not merely impact the country’s health infrastructure or the economy. If Pakistan falls behind on combating the spread, as our actions in the last few months indicate might be the case, this could have repercussions from the world economy and the international stage. Pakistan’s lax implementation of SOPs, especially in air travel, has not gone unnoticed by other countries, and if strict action is not taken, it might result in a response.

The UAE, for example, has already started taking measures. Despite hosting a large number of Pakistani expats and despite its airlines being one of the most preferred airlines by Pakistanis, the UAE has announced to suspend all flight operations from Pakistan from Monday (yesterday) amid a rise in coronavirus cases in the country. Alarmingly, UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority has said that the ban would also apply to transit flights.

This is a worrying predicament. Pakistanis already face a lack of choices in airlines, left to being dependent on UAE airlines for transit flights to countries otherwise inaccessible. This deprives Pakistanis, travelling for essential purposes, out of choices to travel abroad, increasing reliance on an already burdened PIA. It also can have a catastrophic impact on the lives of people who work in the UAE and currently are in Pakistan—they are now left effectively stranded and in risk of losing employment in an already precarious economy.

This move should alarm the government and the aviation officials. One country banning Pakistani flights can have a domino effect and builds our reputation as a “COVID-19” country. Dubai’s parameters must be adhered to at once. There is an urgent need to develop testing labs for airports to ensure other countries don’t follow suit. Social distancing should also be strictly implemented at every stage of air travel. Further infection surges can have a long-lasting impact on Pakistan’s reputation at the foreign stage—the government must grapple with coronavirus before actual travel bans follow.