Nepal | November 30, 2020

EDITORIAL: Who is to blame?

The Himalayan Times
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Regardless of who is at fault, damage has been done, and the airline is having to bear the brunt of it

That Hong Kong has suspended Nepal Airlines flights for two weeks beginning October 4 for carrying passengers infected with the coronavirus is a blot on its image at a time when it has just begun operating regular commercial flights to different destinations.

On October 3, five passengers who boarded a Nepal Airlines flight to Hong Kong from Kathmandu had tested positive for the novel coronavirus there. The passengers are said to have submitted negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test reports while boarding the aircraft as required by the government rule. The authorities are investigating how this has come to pass. But regardless of how it happened and who is at fault, damage has been done, and the airline is having to bear the brunt of it.

Two flights to Hong Kong were scheduled during the suspension period but have now been cancelled.

Hong Kong’s authorities had relayed the information about the suspension to NAC officials on Tuesday.

Government rules require all passengers to undergo a PCR test not more than 72 hours before boarding a flight. After the test, they must remain isolated and not come in contact with anyone. Therefore, in all likelihood, the infected five passengers ignored the rule, and apparently came into contact with an asymptomatic Covid-19 patient before flying for Hong Kong. What the incident does is, it alerts other airports and passengers as well, which could affect Nepal Airlines negatively.

Although not showing symptoms during tests at the Hong Kong airport, there is every possibility that other passengers on the plane and the crew might also have been infected during the long flight. The virus might also have been passed on to other passengers at the airport lounge in Kathmandu.

The Hong Kong incident should be a lesson for one and all about the implications of being lax in implementing the safety procedures against the virus. The government must implement its rules and regulations strictly and see to it that the people follow them regardless of the inconvenience caused to them.

Corona infection is spiralling out of control in the country, with Kathmandu accounting for the largest number of new cases on a daily basis. With more than 91,000 cases, Nepal’s caseload has exceeded that of China with a population of 1.4 billion. Although the recovery rate is almost 73 per cent, the already high number of active cases which continues to grow by leaps and bounds is cause for worry, but neither the government nor the people seem to understand the gravity of the situation. The crowds of people that one sees in the streets, malls and market squares only prove how lightly people are taking the coronavirus. True the strict lockdown made life difficult for everyone, especially for the daily wage earners.

But with the lifting of the lockdown, there are still public health standards that everyone must adhere to, namely, mask wearing, physical distancing and regular sanitisation. And there are other guidelines to follow when travelling by bus or plane as they pose a risk to the health and well-being of others who are travelling together. So unless everyone feels the responsibility, there is every possibility of the Hong Kong episode repeating elsewhere, too.

Unrecorded workers

After the Covid-19 pandemic hit the global economy, millions of Nepali migrant workers returned home by air or land, hoping that the government would do something to address their plight. Let alone providing them with job opportunities at home, the government does not even have data about the number of undocumented migrant workers, who are languishing in foreign countries, expecting help from the government. The migrant workers who had gone to third countries through illegal channels are facing a big problem in returning home or of getting any financial or legal support from the Nepali embassies in the host countries.

Migrant experts believe that there could be around 150,000 undocumented Nepali workers, including women, who are spread across the world, particularly in the Middle East and in other restricted countries, where such illegal workers usually go there via India. Our diplomatic missions in those countries can do a better job by keeping records of such workers, who might need legal assistance in times of emergencies. It is the duty of the government and its diplomatic missions to ensure the safety of their citizens when the world is overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A version of this article appears in print on October 08, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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