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Nepal decides to halt all domestic and international flights as coronavirus infections continue to surge

Nepal on Sunday decided to halt all domestic flights from Monday midnight and all international flights from Wednesday midnight until May 14 “to check the rapidly growing spread of the COVID-19”.

“The decision on flight restrictions are in place until May 14,” Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi told the Post. “However, charter flights will be allowed.”

According to statistics of Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, domestic airlines saw an all-time one-day record of passenger numbers of 15,263 on April 28, a day before the prohibitory orders came into force enforced in Kathmandu Valley, as people scrambled to leave the Capital city.

Passenger numbers, however, started to drop gradually and stood at 7,225 on Sunday.

Bus services have been halted since Thursday (April 29).

Before the Cabinet’s decision, the country’s civil aviation regulator–Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal–had decided to introduce a fixed quota system for airlines to restrict the number of flights.

“The whole country is going into lockdown and the two-week circuit-breaker is a wise decision,” Birendra Bahadur Basnet, managing director of Buddha Air told the Post. “We will regret it if we don’t act now.”

On April 29, Nepal enforced two-week prohibitory orders in Kathmandu Valley as the three districts of the Valley–Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur–are the most affected ones by the pandemic in terms of the number of daily “cases”.

The three Valley districts were reporting more than half of the total new infections across the country.

Many districts have been following suit, and more than a third of the districts have prohibitory orders in place now.

Nepal has also made quarantine mandatory for everyone arriving in the country.

Foreigners flying into the Kathmandu Valley are subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine in hotels upon arrival. A negative polymerase chain reaction test result obtained within 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin is required for entry into Nepal.

Earlier in March, Nepal had enforced new travel rules removing the quarantine requirement for foreign tourists in a bid to boost arrivals during the spring season, which is by far the most popular time that foreigners climb the 8,848.86-metre tall Mt Everest.

According to an official at the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, it has already become too late to discontinue the air bubble arrangements with India because of the “extraordinarily high” COVID-19 “cases”.

According to Reuters, India on Sunday reported 392,488 new cases and a record 3,689 deaths, pushing the total “cases” to 19.56 million and the death toll to 215,542. India had reported a record 401,993 new coronavirus “cases” on Saturday.

In December last year, Nepal and India entered into an air bubble agreement, a dedicated flight service between the two countries following strict health and safety protocols set by the authorities of the respective countries.

As per the agreement, currently, only Air India and Nepal Airlines are permitted to operate flights between Delhi and Kathmandu.

Nepali authorities have been struggling to contain the rapid rise of virus “cases” as experts fear that tens of thousands of people may have caught the more infectious mutant strains emerging out of Nepal’s immediate neighbour, India.

Nepal on Sunday reported the highest-single day surge of coronavirus “cases” since the beginning of the pandemic in January last year. The country recorded 7,137 new “cases” in polymerase chain reaction tests and 74 in antigen tests. With 27 new fatalities from COVID-19-related complications, the death toll has reached 3,325.

The countrywide infection tally has reached 336,030, with the number of active “cases” at 48,711. The highest number of daily “cases” prior to Sunday was recorded on October 21 last year when the country reported 5,743 COVID-19 infections on a single day.

Source: Sangam Prasain – Kathmandu Post