Nepal allows limited passenger flights to and from China, Qatar and TurkeyThe move, amid a ban on all international flights, is aimed at facilitating travels, as chartered flights are said to be charging exorbitant fares.
Nepal has allowed limited passenger flights to and from the key gateways, like China, Qatar and Turkey, in a bid to facilitate travellers amid reports that travel agencies have been charging exorbitant fares for chartered flights. Tourism Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal told the Post that Thursday’s Cabinet meeting took a decision to this effect.
The decision will be implemented from June 1.
“Amid complaints that passengers, mainly Nepalis, were forced to pay exorbitant fares for chartered flights, we decided to open limited flights.”
Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said that two weekly flights each have been allowed to and from China and Qatar [one for Nepali Airlines and another flight for their respective carriers].
“Since there are no Nepali carriers flying to Turkey, one flight a week has been allowed to the country,” Pokhrel told the Post.
China, however, has not yet opened passenger flights to and from Nepal since China imposed a travel ban in March 2020.
“We have decided to open passenger flights to China, but we are not sure whether China will open or not,” said Pokhrel.
Currently, two weekly flights [one for Nepal Airlines and one for Air India] has been allowed on the Kathmandu-Delhi sector under the air bubble arrangement where Nepali and Indian citizens are allowed to travel following strict health safety protocols.
“We will gradually open flights to those countries which have not banned us,” said Pokhrel.
Several countries have imposed a travel ban on Nepalis and have put Nepal on the list of “high risk” zones after the second wave of Covid-19 spread at an alarming level, exposing the country’s fragile health infrastructure.
As of Thursday, a total of 542,253 Nepalis had been infected with the virus with active cases numbering 116,476. The pandemic has so far killed 6,951 people.
“Besides China, Qatar, Turkey and India, scheduled passenger flight restrictions on other destinations will remain in place for an indefinite period,” said Pokhrel.
The government imposed a ban on all international flights, except two a week between Kathmandu and New Delhi, May 6 midnight.
Dhakal said that the Tourism Ministry will introduce detailed travel protocols soon.
As per the travel protocol, according to director general Pokhrel, passengers coming to Nepal having both doses of the vaccine along with Covid-19 negative report obtained within 72 hours of departure are allowed to stay in the home quarantine for ten days.
Similarly, if the travellers who have received only one dose of vaccine and have Covid-19 negative report obtained within 72 hours of departure, they have to quarantine themselves in the government designated hotels in Kathmandu for three days on their own expenses.
Passengers who have not been vaccinated but whose report is negative will have to stay in the hotel quarantine for ten days at their own expense.
Nepal ordered a second lockdown on April 29 for two weeks as a public health measure to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and since then it has been extended twice to June 3.
On May 13, Nepal 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.
The Cabinet on May 17 decided to allow one weekly flight in China and Qatar, but it was meant for bringing medicines and other logistics. Due to poor communication, the decision had created confusion among Tourism Ministry officials, as Cabinet approval is not required for cargo flights.
“Later it came to light that the agenda was not tabled by the Tourism Ministry and it came from somewhere else,” said an official at the Tourism Ministry requesting anonymity. “We still don’t know who tabled the agenda.”
As the decision taken did not hold any significance, Tourism Minister Dhakal then presented another proposal to allow passenger flights to and from some of the key gateways to facilitate travel, particularly for Nepali migrant workers who are forced to pay hefty airfares for chartered flights.
The flight suspension has led to many migrant workers in various destination countries stuck, while those who had found placements won’t be able to report to work.
Nepali migrants working in other labour destination countries in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere too have been waiting for the resumption of flights.
The flights will also allow foreign mountaineers who are still waiting to make a final ascent to Mt Everest to go home, according to Tourism Ministry officials.
Due to the adverse weather conditions, climbing activities have been delayed.
The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee on May 23 extended the closing date for Khumbu Icefall Route for this climbing season until May 31. This means that the climbers can descend on June 1 from the summit of Everest.
“This decision has been made at the request of expedition teams in view of the adverse weather conditions of the past few days. All expedition groups are requested to complete their expedition within this date,” the committee said in its notice.
According to expedition outfitters, the last window to climb Everest is on May 30 (Sunday) or it can be extended to May 31 (Monday) based on the weather forecast. Weather on Everest has been deteriorating since May 25.
Officials at the Everest base camp said that the base camp has been blanketed with snow due to heavy snowfall for the last three days, preventing even choppers from landing. The heavy snowfall has been caused by Cyclone Yaas.
Cyclone Yaas, which has been wreaking havoc on Indian coastal states, has left various parts of Nepal also drenched in rain, with meteorologists predicting more adverse weather conditions for the next few days. The Home Ministry has asked the expedition agencies to immediately return from the mountains.