February 11, 2020
Cabinet to finalise plan today to send in a 274-seater A330 to rescue citizens from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
The government is preparing to send a Nepal Airlines plane on Saturday to evacuate Nepalis stranded in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The plan comes as Nepalis stuck in Hubei, most of them students, sought international support, alleging that Kathmandu failed to heed their repeated requests.
The government’s delay in sending a plane and wrapping up other preparations at home—setting up quarantine and isolation facilities, ensuring special ambulances to transport the evacuees and training human resources—have also been criticised.
A 274-seater Nepal Airlines Airbus A330 aircraft shall bring home at least 180 Nepalis who have registered their names at the Embassy of Nepal in Beijing seeking evacuation from Wuhan, the city where the virus originated. The deadly virus has killed more than 900 people and infected 40,000.
A senior official at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation told the Post that the Nepal Airlines Airbus with four medical doctors, three captains, six members of the cabin crew and four support staff on board will fly to Wuhan from Kathmandu at 11.15hrs on Saturday. Touch down in the Chinese city is expected at around 15.45hrs.
As the stranded Nepalis are scattered in various cities in Hubei Province, the Chinese authorities need to assemble them at the Wuhan airport—it is not clear how much time it will take for them to do that. The return flight will be around five hours long.
Although the government plans to house the evacuees at the Nepal Electricity Authority Training Centre in Kharipati, Bhaktapur, protests by local residents have forced officials to look for alternatives. The evacuees, along with crew members, doctors and supporting staff on the flight to Wuhan, need to be quarantined for two weeks.
A pressure group formed by family members of Nepalis stuck in Wuhan has been frequenting various ministries demanding their kin be evacuated at the earliest.
The Cabinet on Monday also discussed a wide range of alternatives and preparations related to the evacuation, a minister told the Post.
According to the minister, Minister for Health and Population Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal informed the Cabinet that 147 beds in 36 isolated wards are being prepared to quarantine the evacuees.
Five hospitals have been identified as “hub hospitals” while 36 others have been identified as “satellite hospitals”. Altogether 85 health professionals are being trained to oversee the evacuees.
“As some locals in Bhaktapur protested the government’s plan to convert the training centres into a quarantine facility, we are forced to look for other alternatives,” said the minister who did not want to be named as Cabinet are made public only on Thursdays. “Relevant government agencies are looking for alternatives,” the minister said.
Several countries, such as the United States, Japan, Australia, India and Bangladesh have already evacuated their citizens from Wuhan and surrounding cities, under a lockdown to contain the virus.
After Monday’s Cabinet meeting, Chief Secretary Lok Darshan Regmi held yet another “preparatory meeting” with various government agencies to finalise the location for quarantine and isolation and medical facilities and to discuss ways to provide security.
“The meeting will make some final recommendations to the Cabinet on Tuesday on the evacuation plan,” a government secretary told the Post. “A Cabinet meeting has been called for Tuesday to finalise the evacuation plan.”
Amid delay in the evacuation, the National Human Rights Commission on Sunday had directed the government to immediately evacuate Nepalis from Hubei Province.
Speaking at a function in the Capital on Monday, Dr Suman Shrestha, a student based in Wuhan, said that none of the Nepalis living in Wuhan is infected with the virus, and the government should bring them home without any hesitation.
Ramesh Bahadur Singh, a parent of a student currently in Wuhan, said he will be forced to request other countries to rescue the Nepalis stuck in Hubei if the government fails to do it.