Kathmandu, May 14 (PTI) Nepal has permitted special flights to evacuate over 7,000 foreign nationals, including Indians, stranded in the country after it suspended all international flights to check its worst COVID-19 surge amid acute shortages of medical facilities.
Tourists from abroad have been anxiously waiting to get out of Kathmandu after the government extended the lockdown by two weeks, and cancelled all flights, except the two weekly bubble services to India, following a surge in coronavirus infections.
Foreign embassies have stepped up efforts to repatriate stranded trekkers and mountaineers.
More than 7,000 foreigners, including some 2,000 Indians, are estimated to be stranded in Nepal, the Kathmandu Post reported.
“We have allowed a few evacuation flights based on the request of foreign embassies in Nepal,” Rajan Pokhrel, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, was quoted as saying by the daily.
The evacuation flights began on Friday as Nepali private carrier Shree Airlines flew several Thai nationals and Nepali students to Bangkok.
There were around 11 passengers, including Nepali students, said Anil Manandhar, corporate manager of Shree Airlines. “We will return with cargo and 24 oxygen concentrator machines gifted by the Thai government and non-resident Nepalis in Thailand.” The government has also allowed the Indian Embassy to evacuate its stranded citizens who were using Kathmandu as a transit point to go to Saudi Arabia for employment after a number of countries banned direct flights from India after it was overwhelmed by a second wave.
On April 28, the government had banned all foreign nationals from using Nepal to fly to third countries after it was found that several Indian travellers were using Kathmandu as a transit point.
According to Pokhrel, there are 2,000 Indian nationals stuck in Nepal.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has permitted Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines to conduct seven flights to evacuate Indian nationals to Saudi Arabia.
According to Pokhrel, the US Embassy requested three special repatriation flights on May 16, 17 and 25 which will be operated by Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines. Qatar Airways will operate flights on May 16 and 25 while Turkish Airlines will operate on May 17.
The Russian Embassy has requested a landing permit for Aeroflot Airlines, the flag carrier and largest airline of the Russian Federation. “We will approve the landing permit once it fixes the arrival date,” said Pokhrel.
Many other embassies may request the government for evacuation flights, according to Nepal Tourism Board officials. Nepal has called for international assistance as it grapples with oxygen shortages and soaring infections threaten to push the healthcare system to breaking point.
Nepal ordered a second lockdown on April 29 for two weeks as a public health measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. International flights to and from Nepal were suspended from May 6 midnight.
On Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal extended the restriction on scheduled international commercial passenger flights to and from Nepal until May 31 midnight.
Two weekly flights on the Kathmandu-Delhi sector—one by Nepal Airlines and another by Air India—will continue under an air bubble arrangement between Nepal and India.
The prohibitory orders in the Kathmandu Valley that have been in place since April 29 have been extended until May 27.
According to the Nepal Tourism Board, there are around 2,000 foreign nationals currently in Kathmandu who are waiting for immediate evacuation.
Another 5,000 tourists are estimated to be in different trekking and mountaineering destinations, and they are likely to return in the next two weeks before the monsoon season begins in Nepal, the board said. PTI PMS AKJ PMS PMS