KARACHI ― A plane crash in Pakistan’s biggest city on Friday afternoon darkened the country’s mood ahead of an important religious holiday and shattered hopes of a respite from the national focus on the coronavirus outbreak.
The Pakistan International Airlines flight from Lahore to Karachi was carrying 107 people when it went down in the Model Colony area near Karachi airport, according to Azra Pechuho, the health minister of Sindh province, where the city is located. The pilot told air traffic control that the plane faced “technical difficulties” and lost contact with the ground, airline officials told the BBC. At least some people onboard survived and were taken to a nearby hospital, people in contact with a surviving passenger told HuffPost.
Eleven dead bodies and six wounded people were brought to Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital, Pechuho told reporters. Some people living in the residential neighborhood were also hurt, and some houses caught fire, according to multiple local television reports. Four residents were in stable condition and two had experienced serious burns, she said.
At least 80 people died and at least two people survived the crash, Sindh officials said later on Friday. The total number of casualties remains unclear.
The crash came just six days after the government permitted domestic flights to resume as it eased a national lockdown imposed in March to limit the spread of COVID-19. It’s also days ahead of the festival of Eid ul-Fitr, a time of celebration and family, making the crash all the more painful.
Eid comes at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and Pakistanis traditionally celebrate the holiday with large family gatherings. With most citizens unable to see family members in other cities since the lockdown cut off domestic air, train and bus links two months ago, many people sought to take advantage of the opportunity for a reunion amid a long national holiday that is set to extend through Wednesday of next week. Instead, some are now left to deal with yet another tragedy.
Pakistan is struggling to balance some citizens’ desire for normalcy and a return to daily wage work that is the only source of income for millions of people.
The coronavirus has infected at least 50,000 people in Pakistan and killed at least 1,000. Worldwide, more than 5 million cases and more than 330,000 deaths have been confirmed as of Friday.
Criticism of the lockdown policy has grown over the last few weeks. Clerics secured the right to hold congregational prayers, and officials across the country’s provinces have begun dismantling restrictions, particularly in areas ruled by allies of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said “elite” Pakistanis were forcing an unfairly tough policy on poor people.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on businesses operating during the weekends and on shopping malls that remained in Sindh, home to Karachi and ruled by the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, were invalid.
Pakistani health care professionals have condemned the easing of restrictions and said they believe it is highly unlikely people will follow the social distancing guidelines promoted but loosely enforced by the government.
Following the expected socializing during Eid, it seems inevitable that the situation will worsen. Next week, the daily increase in cases could be 15 to 20% higher than what it is now, Aamer Ikram, the director of Pakistan’s National Institute of Health, told local newspaper Dawn on Friday.
For Pakistanis, that could mean fresh bad news and fear as they continue to process the crash.