People from remote districts stranded in Nepalgunj Airport for want of PCR testAuthorities have made PCR test reports mandatory for all air passengers on rescue flights but are unclear about who should bear the expense of the test.
Lok Bahadur Shahi of Mugu, a remote district in Karnali Province, had come to Nepalgunj for his wife’s medical treatment last month. Shahi and his wife had flown to Nepaljung on a private airline and they have been stranded in the city ever since, as the government has banned airlines from flying passengers without their Polymerase Chain Reaction test reports.
Regular flights to and from Nepalgunj Airport have been halted for the past four months. However, rescue flights are in operation for the districts that are not connected with a road network.
"We were supposed to return home on Friday. We had already boarded the flight but the airline officials asked us to deboard since we did not have our PCR test results,” said Shahi. “We have spent a lot of money on my wife’s treatment and our hotel stay here.”
According to Shahi, there are around 30 people from Mugu, Humla and Jumla who are currently stranded in Nepalgunj.
Nepalgunj Airport Office of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has stopped issuing flight permits to airlines that do not implement the health and safety protocols set by the government. As per the protocols, a passenger should have a PCR test report, should use face masks at all times and the aircraft should manage sanitiser for all passengers.
Although the authorities have made PCR test reports mandatory for passengers, there are no clear instructions on who should bear the expenses of the tests.
"The governments of the respective provinces are responsible for conducting the PCR tests of their air passengers. We only carry out the PCR tests of seriously ill people," said Naresh Shrestha, the focal person at the District Health Office in Banke.
Meanwhile, the Social Development Ministry of Karnali Province has decided to bar the entry of individuals to the province without a PCR test report effective from August 17. But the ministry has not taken into account the people stranded at domestic airports.
“The provincial government conducts the PCR tests of returnees who enter the province by road. The returnees are kept in quarantine centres where their PCR tests are conducted,” Dal Rawal, Social Development minister of Karnali Province, told the Post. "But we do not have any immediate provisions for conducting PCR tests of those who want to enter the province by air. They will have to conduct a PCR test at their own expense."
But for Anoj Aauji of Bajura, a hill district of Sudurpaschim Province, getting a PCR test is an added expense.
“I flew to Ranjha Airport in Nepalgunj for the treatment of my relative a week ago. I have been staying at a hotel since I arrived in Nepalgunj and don’t have an extra Rs 5,000 for a PCR test.”
According to him, he was allowed to fly from Bajura Airport last week without a PCR test report.
“Now the airport authority in Nepalgunj says we have to get PCR test reports to be able to fly home. I don't know what to do," said Aauji. He and seven other people who came to Nepalgunj together from Bajura are waiting to return home, he said.
The CAAN Nepalgunj Office on Friday cancelled the rescue flights of two private airlines that were scheduled to depart for the hill districts of Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces, as they were not implementing the health security protocols.
"The airlines had been operating rescue flights by following health security protocols. But of late, they have been found flouting the regulations despite our repeated requests," said Premnath Thakur, chief at the Nepalgunj Airport Office of the CAAN.
"It’s imperative for us to maintain health and safety protocols at all times," said Thakur. “That’s why we have had to cancel scheduled flights to Sudurpaschim and Karnali in the last few days.”
According to Nepalgunj Airport, a total of 15 rescue flights were scheduled to fly to Dolpa, Humla, Mugu and Bajura districts on Sunday.
“The cancellation has obviously put passengers in a fix but we can’t be negligent about health security at a time like this,” Thakur said.
The airlines, meanwhile, expressed their dissatisfaction about the cancellations of the scheduled flights.
"Our flight, which was about to take off for Mugu, was cancelled at the eleventh hour on Friday. This has caused a lot of hassle for the passengers and for the airlines too," said Basanta Malla, the assistant station in-charge of Summit Airlines in Nepalgunj.
(Kalendra Sejuwal contributed reporting from Surkhet)
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 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. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
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.