Pakistan concerned about workers returning from UAE with coronavirus

ISLAMABAD/DUBAI: Pakistan has raised concerns with the United Arab Emirates that many citizens were returning home from the Arab Gulf state infected with COVID-19 and that they were crowding the living conditions of the workers in the UAE It may be helping to spread the virus, officials said Tuesday.

Both (governments) are working together to find (an) optimal solution to this shared concern, ministry spokeswoman Aisha Farooqi told Reuters in a WhatsApp message.

A UAE foreign ministry official later said the government “completely rejects this version of events”.

"Everyone on UAE repatriation flights has been tested before departure, and those found to be infected were not allowed to travel," Assistant Undersecretary for Consular Affairs Khalid al-Mazrouei told Reuters.

The official did not address Islamabad's concerns about living conditions.

Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to Pakistan 's Prime Minister on National Security, said the number of people returning from the UAE and testing positive was "higher than we were hoping". On most flights, around 12% were testing positive but on a couple of flights that number rose to between 40% and 50%.

The hypothesis is that many of the workers live in crowded dormitories and in those, it is essentially easier to catch each other, he told Reuters.

The UAE is home to around 1.5 million Pakistan is, many of whom are low-wage workers living in crowded housing and are now out of work and stranded due to the crisis.

Repatriation flights began last month after tens of thousands of Pakistan is in the UAE asked their government to be flown home. The UAE had also warned it could review labour ties with countries refusing to take back its nationals.

Around 60,000 Pakistan is have so far registered to return from the UAE , according to Pakistan 's consulate in Dubai.

Yusuf said balancing the needs of the 100,000 citizens around the world who had registered as wanting to return home with preventing the spread of the virus was a challenge. The government was testing each passenger on arrival and quarantining them if necessary, meaning that it can currently only take about 8,000 citizens home per week.

We are not going to compromise security, but we are making it as easy as possible for people, he said.

Pakistan is dealing with a fast-growing number of cases, as infections reached more than 21,000 with over 500 deaths.

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

The Arab Gulf states have increased the evidence after registering an increasing number of cases among low-income migrant workers in overcrowded housing.

Low-wage overseas workers are normally a vital source of labour in areas such as construction and transport for many Gulf nations and contribute billions of dollars in remittances to their home countries such as Pakistan , India and Bangladesh.

But many labor rights activists say they are vulnerable to exploitative labor practices and poor working and living conditions.

A foreign worker in Dubai said he lived with three other people in a small room with bunk beds and that some workers lived from six to one room.

It is risky when they live together, he said, asking not to be identified. The situation with COVID-19 is not good for us at the moment.