KATHMANDU, SEPTEMBER 14
Glaring lapses in following the health safety protocols by Nepal Airlines Corporation have surfaced during repatriation of Nepalis stranded abroad that have put crew members of the airlines, as well as the general public, at grave risk.
Whereas the health safety protocols of the government require airlines to place crew members in hotel quarantine for two weeks after each repatriation flight, the national flag carrier has been sending its flight crew abroad on consecutive flights.
For instance, the pilot duo that had flown to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to bring home 264 passengers on Wednesday were made to conduct a flight to Juba in South Sudan two days later.
In a clear consequence of this kind of negligence, the captain duo, including Senior NAC Pilot Vijay Lama, have tested positive for coronavirus.
They are recuperating in isolation.
NAC had earlier placed its flight crew in hotel quarantine, but the management recently asked the crew members to go home, an NAC source claimed. “In doing so, the top management is also jeopardising the health of their family members.”
Till date, over 15 NAC crew members have tested positive for COVID.
According to sources at NAC, despite reservations expressed by NAC crew members to transport passengers who had not undergone polymerase chain reaction test for coronavirus from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia last week, they were forced to relent when the Nepali embassy in Riyadh intervened.
“All 264 passengers were brought back that day although only 10 passengers were carrying a negative report and that too from rapid diagnostic test, which is not reliable,” one of the sources said.
However, Archana Khadka, spokesperson for NAC, dismissed the reservations expressed by the crew members.
“Saudi Arabia does not have a PCR testing facility, which is why the chartered flight had been conducted.”
Talking about the crew members, she claimed that the corporation had followed all the health safety protocols set by the government and World Health Organisation.
A source at Tribhuvan International Airport even claimed that all the passengers who had arrived from Saudi Arabia had already returned to their villages without completing the mandatory week-long hotel quarantine.
The captain duo who returned from Jeddah also flew to Juba on September 11 carrying Nepali Army peacekeeping mission on board.
“While the troops who went from here had negative PCR report, the NA troops that were flown back were not checked,” said another NAC source.
Meanwhile, Khadka said since the Nepali Army had made all the arrangements, the airline did not check PCR results. However, Brigadier General Santosh Ballave Poudyal, the Nepali Army spokesperson, rejected all claims of complacency. “Our reputation is also at stake, so we will never compromise on following the protocols.”
Khadka said they began contact tracing after the two captains contracted the virus.
A version of this article appears in e-paper on September 15, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.