Domestic flights, long-distance transport to resume next weekCabinet discusses allowing in foreign tourists but no decision was made, according to a minister.
Tika R Pradhan
The government on Monday decided to allow domestic airlines as well as long-distance public transport services to resume from September 21 in view of the upcoming festival season.
The services had remained suspended for the last six months in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government, however, has not lifted the restrictions on foreign tourists’ entry to the country.
Even though international passenger flights have been allowed to operate since September 1, foreign tourists have not been allowed into the country, in a major setback for the country’s tourism sector which has been hit the hardest due to the pandemic.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, who took charge as the government spokesperson on Monday, told the Post that domestic airlines and long-distance transport services have been allowed to resume but they should follow health and safety protocols in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
According to Gyawali, the Cabinet meeting, however, has not taken any decision on allowing foreign tourists into the country.
But another minister, requesting anonymity, said there was a discussion in the Cabinet about opening the country for foreign tourists on a trial basis.
Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai had said last week that his ministry had recommended that the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre permit foreigners to visit for mountaineering and trekking activities.
Meanwhile, according to Tourism Ministry officials, with the coronavirus contagion showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, Nepal is likely to remain shut for foreign tourists until the end of this year.
Officials said as the country is bracing for a major festival season, there will be much public movement, not just within the country but also from abroad.
“Given the festive season, which will mean Nepalis will be arriving in hordes, it will be difficult to manage foreign tourists in light of the rising number of Covid-19 cases,” an official told the Post.
Monday’s Cabinet meeting, however, decided to increase the frequency of international passenger flights and also allow unlimited number of flights for foreign companies who plan to send back stranded migrant workers at their own costs.
Gyawali, however, did not elaborate on the flight frequency.
The Tourism Ministry had proposed raising the frequency of flights to increase the daily arrivals quota of 800 people to 2,500 as the restricted number of passenger flights had allowed airlines to increase ticket prices citing the high demand.
The Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs had also warned of an agitation if the government acted indifferently. According to the federation, over 400,000 public vehicles have been garaged for the past six months, putting tens of thousands of people out of business.
According to Gagan Bahadur Hamal, director general at the Department of Transport Management, the modality it has suggested for the operation of long-distance buses is to have passengers on only half the number of seats and allowing operators to charge 5o percent extra on the set bus fares to make up for the loss.
“We have also sent a modality of doing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests of passengers before boarding buses on a long route but I am not sure if it’s possible,” Hamal told the Post before Monday’s Cabinet meeting.
Besides, according to Gyawali, the government also decided to recommend that the President nominate Bamdev Gautam for the vacant position of National Assembly.
The meeting was also expected to reappoint Kulman Ghising as the managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority but, as one minister told the Post, the agenda was not tabled. Ghising’s four-year term expired on Sunday.