Nepal allows ‘special flights’ to evacuate stranded foreignersThe government has also permitted the evacuation of a number of Indian nationals using Kathmandu as a transit point to escape the flight ban in India.
Nepal on Thursday permitted a number of “special flights” as requested by foreign embassies to evacuate their citizens, a week after it suspended all international flights, except the two weekly bubble services to India, as it fought to check the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
More than 7,000 foreigners are estimated to be stranded in Nepal.
Tourists from abroad have been anxiously waiting to get out of Kathmandu after the government extended the lockdown by two weeks, and cancelled all flights following a surge in coronavirus infections.
Foreign embassies have stepped up efforts to repatriate stranded trekkers and mountaineers.
“We have allowed a few evacuation flights based on the request of foreign embassies in Nepal,” said Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
The evacuation flights will begin on Friday when Nepali private carrier Shree Airlines will fly several Thai nationals and Nepali students to Bangkok.
“There are around 11 passengers, including Nepali students,” said Anil Manandhar, corporate manager of Shree Airlines. “We will return with cargo and 24 oxygen concentrator machines gifted by the Thai government and non-resident Nepalis in Thailand.”
According to Pokhrel, the United States Embassy has been permitted three special repatriation flights on May 16, 17 and 25 which will be operated by Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.
Qatar Airways will operate flights on May 16 and 25 while Turkish Airlines will operate on May 17.
The Russian Embassy has requested a landing permit for Aeroflot Airlines, the flag carrier and largest airline of the Russian Federation. “We will approve the landing permit once it fixes the arrival date,” said Pokhrel.
The government has also allowed the Indian Embassy to evacuate its stranded citizens who were using Kathmandu as a transit point to go to Saudi Arabia for employment after a number of countries banned direct flights from India after it was overwhelmed by a second wave.
On April 28, the government had banned all foreign nationals from using Nepal to fly to third countries following criticism in the wake of revelations that a rising number of Indian travellers were using Kathmandu as a transit point.
According to Pokhrel, there are 2,000 Indian nationals stuck in Nepal. “The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has permitted Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines to conduct seven flights to evacuate Indian nationals to Saudi Arabia.”
Many other embassies may request the government for evacuation flights, according to Nepal Tourism Board officials.
They said their mobile hotlines were ringing constantly with calls from frantic tourists asking about repatriation or charter flights.
Nepal's tourism promotional body, which has activated its crisis management and communications unit to help tourists, said the visitors were worried they might be stuck in the country while it faces the brutal second wave of the pandemic that has left a trail of sickness and death.
Nepal has called for international assistance as it grapples with oxygen shortages and soaring infections threaten to push the healthcare system to breaking point.
Nepal on Thursday reported 8,842 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours taking the nationwide infection tally to 431,191. The Health Ministry reported 214 Covid-19-related fatalities on Thursday.
Nepal ordered a second lockdown on April 29 for two weeks as a public health measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19. International flights to and from Nepal were suspended from May 6 midnight.
On Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal extended the restriction on scheduled international commercial passenger flights to and from Nepal until May 31 midnight.
Two weekly flights on the Kathmandu-Delhi sector—one by Nepal Airlines and another by Air India—will continue under an air bubble arrangement between Nepal and India.
The prohibitory orders in the Kathmandu Valley that have been in place since April 29 have been extended until May 27.
As per the Nepal Tourism Board, there are around 2,000 foreign nationals currently in Kathmandu who are waiting for immediate evacuation.
Another 5,000 tourists are estimated to be in different trekking and mountaineering destinations, and they are likely to return in the next two weeks before the monsoon season begins in Nepal, the board said.
Nepali citizens and foreigners entering the Kathmandu Valley from any entry point are required to stay in quarantine for five days in any of the hotels approved by the Tourism Ministry.
After the five-day quarantine, a PCR test should be done. The cost of accommodation and three meals daily has been fixed as Rs 3,000 net per day.
There are currently 1,437 European nationals who arrived in Nepal between January 1 and May 5 and have not returned to their country, the board said.
According to the Department of Immigration, Nepal received 22,450 foreign tourists by air in April. Among the total arrivals, 13,202 came from India, 2,740 from the United States, 803 from China and 685 from Russia.