Airlines ignoring orders not to board passengers without negative PCR test reportCarriers violating the rule have to pay the hotel quarantine charges of all passengers, according to a cabinet decision.
On August 25, a charter flight of Air Arabia landed at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport. Among the 161 passengers on board, 142 produced a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test report conducted in the last 72 hours as per regulations. But 18 passengers provided rapid diagnostic test (RDT) results, which have not been authorised by the Nepal government, and one passenger did not produce any test report at all.
The Sharjah-based carrier arrived in Nepal in violation of the rules four days after the cabinet ordered that airlines should only board passengers with a negative PCR test report conducted in the last 72 hours.
Airlines have also been barred from bringing passengers with and without PCR test reports on the same flight.
A complaint was filed at the Civil Aviation Ministry as Air Arabia had violated the rule, and an investigation committee was formed. On Wednesday, the ministry ordered the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to warn airlines not to make the same mistake again.
Air Arabia was made to pay the hotel quarantine charges of the 142 passengers carrying negative PCR test reports as a penalty.
Again on August 28, nine of the 148 passengers arriving on a Silk Air flight from Singapore were found not to have a PCR test report.
“As per government directives, we sent all the passengers to hotel quarantine. They will undergo PCR tests on Friday, and based on the test reports, they will be allowed to go to their respective destinations,” Nepal Army Spokesperson Brigadier General Santosh Ballav Paudel told the Post.
The Nepal Army has been tasked with checking arriving passengers and taking them to holding centres before sending them to their destinations. “The airline will pay all costs as per the government decision,” he said.
The issue does not end here. On Wednesday, a Nepal Airlines flight from Japan landed in Kathmandu at 5:30 pm with 115 passengers on board. Among them, two had test reports but they were in Japanese while another passenger had brought an RDT report, according to Paudel.
One passenger who was attached to a diplomatic mission was released as its responsibility, and nine others were sent to home quarantine on humanitarian grounds as they have come to Nepal due to family problems, according to Nepal Airlines.
“The rest were sent to hotel quarantine,” said Paudel.
An unnamed airport official told the Post that tensions ran high on Wednesday evening when all passengers started to scold the passenger with the RDT report.
“The female passenger carrying the RDT report was stressed after being rebuked by her fellow passengers since they all had to stay in a hotel for more than a week,” the official said. “But actually it was the airline's mistake.”
That mistake cost Nepal Airlines nearly Rs1.5 million in hotel and PCR test charges.
On August 21, the cabinet decided that people coming to Nepal must produce an RT-PCR test report conducted in the last 72 hours, proof of advance hotel booking for seven days, and a barcode or print copy of the form they have to fill up by retrieving it from the website of the Covid Crisis Management Centre (ccmc.gov.np).
The government has also restricted passengers with and without PCR test results from flying on the same flight.
Airlines breaking any rule and bringing people without PCR test results will have to bear all quarantine expenses of all passengers, according to the cabinet decision.
Archana Khadka, spokesperson for Nepal Airlines Corporation, said that it was a mistake on their part and the airline will pay all costs. “We know about the government’s decision and we have circulated it to all airports that we fly to. It was a human error on the Japan flight.”
An airport official said that Nepal Airlines had not appointed an airport manager at Narita International Airport in Japan and all responsibility had been entrusted to the local ground handling staff. “As a result, the problem appeared.”
Khadka said PCR tests of the passengers would be conducted and other passengers released. But an official at the Civil Aviation Ministry told the Post that it was not possible as all passengers had to complete the mandatory hotel quarantine.
“There is no excuse at all.” The passengers have to spend at least seven days in the hotel after which their PCR tests will be conducted.
As airlines continued to flout the rule, Tribhuvan International Airport officials summoned all international airlines representatives on Thursday and warned them to abide by the government decision strictly, said Deo Chandra Lal Karna, spokesperson for the airport.
“Violation of the rule has worried all employees and security officials at the airport.”
Although Nepal has implemented a stringent rule to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country, some officials said that no mandatory provisions were set for departing passengers.
Recently, a charter flight from Sri Lanka landed in Kathmandu to pick up its stranded citizens. “There was confusion at the airport as to whether passengers entering the airport and flying out would require negative PCR test reports,” said an airport official. “It’s not compulsory in Sri Lanka, and the airline did not ask passengers to get tested before boarding the flight.”
Karna said that the issue had been communicated to the government. The Nepal government does not require passengers flying out of Kathmandu to submit PCR reports.