Nepal to open regular flights from 1 September

After the outrage over the government’s abrupt cancellation of scheduled repatriation flights on 16 August, the Cabinet has announced conditions for passengers coming to Nepal on chartered and scheduled flights.

According to a set of complicated new rules, scheduled passenger flights will be allowed from 1 September, but all passengers will have to bear the cost of one week of hotel quarantine in Kathmandu which will be added to their air ticket.

These regular flights will also be allowed only from countries where PCR tests are easily available, and these include: Malaysia, UAE, Korea, Thailand, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Australia, United States and Canada. There is confusion because no mention is made of European countries in that list. 

Announcing the new rules, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada gave no reasons why the distinction was being made for passengers from Europe, many of which countries are less affected by the pandemic at present than the United States. The Cabinet also decided that airlines cannot mix passengers with PCR negative tests and passengers without tests.

Airlines coming from countries where PCR tests are not easy to get (Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia) will be allowed to operate only charter flights, or the Nepal government will operate special repatriation flights from those destinations. 

Further, only passengers on lists provided by embassies in those countries will be allowed to board, and once in Kathmandu they will have to stay in government-designated quarantine centres for a week while they get their PCR tests. Returnees with PCR negative tests from those three countries can go directly to home self-quarantine for 14 days. 

All passengers will need PCR negative certificates before boarding, and the tests must have been taken only 72 hours before their flights. Hotel costs in Kathmandu will vary from Rs1,800 to Rs9,000 per day. 

Only Nepalis, diplomats and UN officials will be allowed to fly into Kathmandu for the time being. Arriving foreigners will not get visa on arrival, and will also have to quarantine in hotels for a week. Earlier guidelines had opened hotels and trekking, but on Friday Khatiwada made no mention of tourists being allowed in.

Meanwhile, a Nepal Airlines Airbus is flying to Dubai on Monday  to bring back 266 Nepali workers who were left stranded when the plane flew back empty on Tuesday after the government banned reptriation flights while it was en route. 

UPDATE, 22 AUGUST: The government has added European states in the list of countries where PCR tests are available and from where passengers can take regular flights to Kathmandu.

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