No excuse, vaccination cards a must for all flyers effective Jan 21, Health Ministry saysThe announcement for the mandatory requirement of vaccination cards has increased the number of people coming for vaccines. On Saturday, a record 435,000 people were vaccinated in a single day.
Come Friday, travellers will need to bring their vaccination cards or show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to board a domestic flight.
The government on Sunday implemented a slew of restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 as the third wave has hit the country.
But airline companies and the regulatory body say there is confusion regarding whether the mandatory requirement of vaccination cards to board a domestic flight will be implemented because no travel protocols have been issued as of Sunday.
As per the Cabinet decision, domestic airlines should do a mandatory antigen test of travellers and allow them to travel only if they test negative. The airline company needs to bear the cost of the antigen test.
Sources said that the regulatory body has suggested that the mandatory requirement of vaccination cards be exempted as it was not practical based on the recommendation of the Airlines Operators Association of Nepal, the apex body of private airlines.
“The Tourism Ministry is positive,” said the sources.
But the Health Ministry said any exemption will be suicidal.
“There won't be any excuse,” Dr Samir Adhikari, deputy spokesperson for the ministry, told the Post. “From January 21, if you don’t possess the card, you won’t be allowed to enter public places. This is mandatory for air travellers also. It’s a life-saving initiative that we have taken.”
According to Adhikari, the announcement of the mandatory requirement of vaccination cards has increased the number of people coming for vaccines. On Saturday, a record 435,000 people were vaccinated in a single day.
According to the Health Ministry, 40 percent of the 30 million people have been fully vaccinated as of Sunday.
“Without some unpopular moves, it’s not possible to vaccinate the entire population,” said Adhikari.
Health officials say that if the past two years’ experience is taken into account, the third wave cannot be taken for granted.
Nepal on Sunday reported 4,961 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours. The nationwide active cases stands at 25,680.
Officials at Nepal’s civil aviation body and airlines, however, say making vaccination cards mandatory to board domestic flights is not a practical move.
“We have to plan. But as of Sunday, we haven’t received any official instruction or guideline to implement the new provision,” said Deo Chandra Lal Karn, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
On January 9, the Covid-19 Crisis Management Coordination Centre (CCMCC) decided to recommend mandatory vaccination cards to enter public places from January 17.
Public places, according to the Home Ministry, include offices, hotels, restaurants, cinema halls, stadiums, airports and parks, among others.
A day after the CCMCC recommendation, the Home Ministry issued a circular to all 77 districts in line with the recommendations made by the CCMCC.
However, the implementation date was pushed back to January 21.
The CCMCC had recommended that the home and tourism ministries coordinate to make it mandatory for airlines to board passengers only after they produce a proof of vaccination.
“In terms of the requirement of a vaccination card on domestic flights, we are studying the issue. There is no guideline drafted so far,” Fanindra Mani Pokhrel, joint secretary at the Home Ministry, told the Post. “We cannot say whether it is practical or not. It’s one of the requirements of the Health Ministry. We cannot ignore its recommendation.”
The Tourism Ministry said so far they have not received any instruction on the issue.
“As of Sunday, we haven’t received any instruction,” said Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Tourism Ministry, who looks after aviation affairs.
An official at a private airline company said that the upcoming travel protocol should be clear.
“We welcome the government’s decision to make vaccine cards mandatory while travelling but it should be clear,” said Dipendra Karna, communication manager of Buddha Air.
“What are the provisions for the travellers below 12 years of age? What are the provisions for the unvaccinated pregnant women and the provisions for foreigners?” questioned Karna.
According to Karna, a survey conducted by Buddha Air on January 12 shows that 94.61 percent of total passengers who flew Buddha Air planes were vaccinated. The survey was conducted on 1,895 passengers.
In 2021, a horde of 3.54 million domestic fliers braved Covid restrictions and took to the skies, the highest number of air travellers recorded in the history of Nepali aviation.
According to Tribhuvan International Airport statistics, domestic air passenger numbers were up a sharp 11.08 percent from pre-Covid 2019 levels, as airlines dangled cheap tickets to attract travellers.
There are 20 airline companies in Nepal, including 10 fixed-wing operators.
The statistics show that the popularity of plane travel took off in 2021 after a disastrous 2020.
Domestic passenger traffic at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport had fallen to its lowest level in 2020 since 2009.
Domestic airlines carried 1.45 million passengers in 2020, a 54.28 percent plunge from the 2019 figure.
“Yes, people should be aware that they have to be vaccinated to protect themselves and others too,” said Dr Adhikari.