Half a dozen countries seek permission to evacuate their citizens from NepalEmbassies have asked for permission for chartered flights to take their citizens home as many tourists are having difficulties finding food and supplies during the lockdown.
Half a dozen countries are currently in the process of evacuating their citizens from Nepal as concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 continue to grow. The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, India, China and South Korea are among countries that are applying for permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to bring in chartered flights that will be used to fly back their citizens.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation granted permission for two special charter flights from Germany, on behalf of the European Union, to evacuate their nationals, according to Suresh Acharya, the joint-secretary at the ministry who looks after aviation affairs.
Although diplomatic missions apply for permission at the Foreign Ministry, it is the Civil Aviation Ministry that grants permission.
Other countries are likely to follow suit, as a Wednesday meeting of the high-level coordination committee headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel decided to also allow foreign countries to evacuate their citizens from Nepal.
“Based on the committee’s decision, we have permitted Germany to take its citizens home on special charter flights,” said Acharya.
The ministry has granted permission for two flights on Friday and Saturday, he said, and that flight arrangements had been made via Qatar Airways.
“We have not yet received formal applications from other countries, but we are expecting applications as numerous countries are currently bringing their citizens to Kathmandu,” said Acharya.
In an email circulated to its citizens, the Embassy of South Korea stated that it had secured permission for a special flight on March 30 to evacuate its citizens.
Although exact data on how many foreigners are currently in Nepal is unavailable, the Nepal Tourism Board, the country’s tourism promotion body, has estimated that there could be around 2,000 individuals, including some 300 in various trekking areas. The figure excludes foreigners working in diplomatic missions, embassies and INGOs/NGOs.
The government on Tuesday imposed a week-long lockdown across the country to prevent the spread of Covid-19, halting all flights and vehicular movements, except for during emergencies, across the country. The lockdown is likely to continue for longer.
On Thursday, the US Embassy in Kathmandu formally requested the Nepal government to help the embassy facilitate the departure of American citizens from Nepal, according to officials at the Foreign Ministry. India, China, Australia and South Korea are also in communication with government agencies to evacuate their nationals, they said. These embassies have said that their citizens are facing hardship in terms of travelling and getting food due to the lockdown, said one Foreign Ministry official who is privy to communications between the ministry and the diplomatic missions.
“[We are] working really hard to get British nationals who want to leave, back to Kathmandu and home,” British Ambassador to Nepal Nicola Pollitt wrote on Twitter on Thursday, calling for patience from its citizens, many of whom commented saying they were running out of supplies and places to go eat.
Tourists who are stuck in areas outside of Kathmandu, particularly mountainous areas, are currently being airlifted back to Kathmandu by their respective diplomatic missions.
Buddha Air on Thursday airlifted 58 French nationals from Pokhara while Tara Air and a few other helicopter companies rescued 20 trekkers from Lukla, the gateway to Mt Everest.
Australian Ambassador to Nepal Pete Budd on Thursday tweeted that the embassy has secured approval to fly 14 stranded Australians out of Lukla. “Weather permitting, they should land in Kathmandu tomorrow,” he said.
The government of Australia has asked all its nationals stranded in Nepal to be prepared for a flight back home, although it is not clear when they will be flying out. The citizens to be evacuated include all Australian nationals and Nepalis with permanent residence permit.
Nepal has so far reported three cases of Covid-19.
Shuvam Dhungana and Anil Giri contributed reporting.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 28, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 199 countries and infected more than 596,349 people with 27,343 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,373, with 11 deaths. While India has reported 667 confirmed cases with 20 deaths. Nepal has so far reported four cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.