Nepal quarantines passengers on Singapore flight

Silk Air flight to Kathmandu from Singapore.

All 85 passengers from a Silk Air flight from Singapore carrying a Dutch national of Nepali origin have to self-quarantine after landing in Kathmandu on Saturday night.

Earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal had threatened to send the plane back to Singapore with all its passengers after discovering that there was a person from the Netherlands on board.

Nepal had banned all flights from Europe and the Gulf as well as transit passengers as of midnight Friday. On Friday, Prime Minister Oli extended the ban to all international flights from 22-31 March.

The confusion appears to have been created by the two orders, and doubts about whether one superseded the other.

The Boeing 737 had been refused landing in Kathmandu at first after the European national was found to be on board, but was allowed to land to refuel at 8:30pm on Saturday. Passengers were prevented from disembarking for three hours as the authorities debated what to do, and passengers inside the plane grew increasingly angry.

At first they ordered the plane to fly back to Singapore, but as political pressure mounted and passengers started calling relatives, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Yogesh Bhattarai is learnt to have intervened. He is said to have argued that it would send the wrong message internationally if Nepal refused to allow entry to its own citizens. Most of the passengers were Nepali nationals.

Similarly, 64 Nepalis who had arrived on Thai International and Air India have also been sent to the Kharipati quarantine centre on Saturday because they arrived from countries restricted after Friday midnight, which include Europe, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, and Iran. Most of the passengers were said to be Nepalis trying to get home from Malaysia and the Gulf and using Bangkok and New Delhi for transit.

Kathmandu Airport immigration chief Sagar Aryal said the transit passengers were sent to Kharipati quarantine centre because they arrived from countries that had already been banned. The Dutch national on Silk Air has been sent to Kharipati isolation centre, while the other passengers were released with orders to self-quarantine.

All Singapore bound passengers on the return Silk Air flight were taken to hotels in Kathmandu and will fly out on Sunday just before the ban on all international flights goes into effect.

Short-term visitors will no longer be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore from 11.59pm on Monday March 23 after two patients died from Covid-9 complications. They were the first deaths in Singapore, which has seen 430 cases, of which 140 have recovered. Most new cases are brought in by visitors, the government said.

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