Nepal Airlines announces suspending flights after crew members catch virusThe national flag carrier operates four to five repatriation charter flights daily.
Nepal Airlines said it would be briefly suspending its repatriation charter flights from next week following several incidents of virus infection among crew members.
As of Thursday, 13 crew members, including four pilots and a flight dispatcher, had tested positive for Covid-19, said Archana Khadka, spokesperson for Nepal Airlines.
“We have repatriation charter flights scheduled until July 12. After that, we have decided to have a brief suspension,” Khadka said. “The temporary break may be for eight to 10 days.” The national flag carrier operates four-five repatriation charter flights daily.
On Monday, Nepal Airlines confirmed that seven members of the flight crew including three pilots had caught the virus. Airline sources said that all employees were in a near panic after so many of their colleagues contracted the virus.
The national flag carrier said that the crew had become infected despite taking all precautionary measures—from disinfecting the aircraft to using personal protective equipment. The flight crew has been put up at the Soaltee Hotel until they complete their duty hours, which is at least four flights. Then they will be sent home.
According to sources, Nepal Airlines marked its anniversary on July 1 when some crew members staying at the hotel allegedly celebrated the occasion without following safety protocols. This is believed to have spread the virus.
Nepal Airlines holds a 10 percent stake in the Hotel Soaltee and its employees are kept there.
On Monday, the airline issued a circular asking its crew members to maintain social and physical distancing norms within the hotel premises, including the rooms, strictly.
“Crew members are requested to stay alert and not to drop their guard and fight against Covid-19,” the internal memo said. Nepal Airlines has designated a focal person to make all arrangements related to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and other logistics.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, airlines have been asked to assess their own risk and formulate policies accordingly for members of the flight crew who test positive.
Earlier, two flight crew members, including a foreign pilot of Himalaya Airlines, were also confirmed to have the coronavirus infection. Nepal Airlines currently flies three jets—two Airbus A320 and one A330. An A330 has been grounded after suffering a bird strike.
The government has suspended all scheduled international and domestic flights until July 21.
Nepal on March 20 banned all passengers, including Nepalis, from entering the country from the European Union, the United Kingdom, West Asia, the Gulf countries and Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. On March 24, it imposed a complete lockdown.
Nepal confirmed 108 new cases in the last 24 hours as the national Covid-19 tally reached 16,531 on Thursday.