Nepal Airlines seeks quarantine exemption for Nepali passengersFlights between Nepal and India are expected to begin from December 17, pending approvals from the airport authorities of both countries, under an air bubble arrangement.
Nepal Airlines has asked Indian authorities to waive quarantine requirements for Nepali passengers besides allowing them to reuse their negative test reports for the return flight if they are flying back within 72 hours.
The state-owned carrier sent the request for exemption from the two clauses in the medical protocols through the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
Nepal and India have agreed to start flights under an air bubble arrangement with restrictions and regulations, nine months after the two neighbours closed their skies to commercial flights. Flights are expected to begin from December 17, pending approvals from the airport authorities of both countries.
Nepalis travelling to India are required to undergo a two-week quarantine, and they must hold an RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test report completed less than 72 hours before departure.
“We have received the protocols that passengers are required to comply with while travelling to New Delhi. As we know, most of the passengers who travel to Delhi do so for medical purposes, and the mandatory quarantine will be harsh on them,” said Karishma Shrestha, spokesperson for Nepal Airlines.
“We have also sought flexibility to use the same negative RT-PCR report if the passengers return within 72 hours,” she said. “Our purpose is to make things convenient for our citizens. We have sent the request through the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, and are waiting for India’s response.”
Raj Kumar Chettri, spokesperson for Nepal’s civil aviation body, said they had received the request, but they are not the proper agency to deal with it. “We have forwarded the letter to the concerned ministry.”
Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Civil Aviation Ministry who looks after aviation affairs, said they had not received the letter as of Thursday.
Nepalis returning to the country with the negative test reports are not required to stay in quarantine, but tourists—trekkers and mountaineers—have to undergo a seven-day mandatory hotel quarantine before hitting the trail.
Trekkers and mountaineers have been allowed to visit Nepal since October 17.
On Thursday, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu tweeted, “Happy to inform that the two governments (sic) have approved the resumption of regular scheduled flights between Delhi and Kathmandu under Air Transport Bubble mechanism. Nepal Airlines shall be operating the daily flight. For schedules and ticketing, please check their websites.”
According to the guidelines for international arrivals issued by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all travellers should submit a self-declaration form on the online portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) at least 72 hours before the scheduled travel or physically after arrival at the respective health counters.
They should also give an undertaking on the portal or otherwise to the Ministry of Civil Aviation of India, through their airlines before they are allowed to undertake the journey, that they will abide by the decision of the appropriate government authority to undergo facility-home quarantine, self-monitoring of their health for 14 days, or as warranted.
As per the guidelines, only for compelling reasons and cases of human distress such as pregnancy, death in the family, serious illness and parent(s) with children of the age of 10 years or below, home quarantine may be permitted for 14 days. But if they wish to seek such exemption under compelling reasons and cases, they shall apply to the online portal (www.newdelhiairport.in) at least 72 hours before boarding.
As per the guidelines, international passengers arriving without an RT-PCR negative certificate and not opting for an RT-PCR test at the airport (if the facility is available), or arriving at an airport where the testing facility is not available, will have to undergo a mandatory seven days’ institutional quarantine and seven days’ home quarantine.
Under the air bubble arrangement, there will be two flights a day between Kathmandu and New Delhi initially, one each by Nepal Airlines and Air India.
Flights coming into India can bring in Indians and Nepalis, and Overseas Citizen of India cardholders and Person of Indian Origin cardholders holding passports of any country. Flights from India can carry Indian and Nepali nationals to Kathmandu.
Third country nationals including diplomats intending to travel to India for any purpose and their dependents will also be allowed under certain conditions, according to India media reports.
Third country nationals including diplomats who have a valid permit to enter Nepal can also travel by the flights out of India.
According to Shrestha, Nepal Airlines has been making preparations for the flights and announcement of new airfares. “We are in the final phase of preparation, and have initiated work for the approval of slots at New Delhi airport.”
Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal spokesperson Chettri said that the Indian national flag carrier has applied for a permit to begin flights from December 17. “Nepal Airlines will also begin flights from the same date.”
India has air bubble agreements with 22 countries globally. In South Asia, it has air bubble agreements with Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives.
In early October, before the start of the Dashain festival, Nepal had decided to join India’s air bubble scheme in order to bring hundreds of Nepalis stranded in different parts of India.
It was first proposed by India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in mid-August.
After necessary discussions, Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai had tabled the agenda on joining the air bubble scheme at the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre meeting.
But the plan was held up after Bhattarai tested positive for the coronavirus on October 10 before any decision could be made by the cabinet meeting.
“The proposal was then kept on hold by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli as he said let’s look for a few weeks before making a decision,” according to sources privy to the matter. “Then the festival season started and the proposal never got the attention of the ministry.”
The proposal was shelved amid souring relations between Nepal and India over boundary issues, but it was revived after the visit of Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s to Nepal last month.
According to officials, hundreds of Nepalis working, studying and receiving medical treatment in India could benefit from the scheme. Restricting the roughly one-hour flights between the two capitals has affected hundreds of thousands of citizens from both countries as they have to face many hassles when travelling overland in case of an emergency. Many Nepalis are using Bagdogra International Airport in northern West Bengal to fly to New Delhi at present.
The Kathmandu-New Delhi sector is the busiest and one of the most lucrative routes for airlines. Nearly a dozen flights used to take place daily on the route before the Covid-19 pandemic.