Coronavirus: SilkAir flight to Nepal held up over European passenger

In a file photo taken on March 12, 2019, a SilkAir Boeing plane sits on the tarmac at Changi Airport.
In a file photo taken on March 12, 2019, a SilkAir Boeing plane sits on the tarmac at Changi Airport.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

NEW DELHI - A SilkAir flight from Singapore ran into trouble upon landing in Nepal over the weekend, with passengers not allowed to get off the plane as the authorities deliberated over whether the presence of a passenger from Europe contravened coronavirus-related flight bans.

The flight, which landed at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu last Saturday (March 21), had a passenger from the Netherlands onboard among 84 others, nearly all of them Nepalese nationals.

Nepal, which has reported one coronavirus case so far, had banned transit passengers from Europe as well as all flights from Europe as part of efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The Nepali Times, an English weekly newspaper, said there was confusion over different government orders and Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority had threatened to send the plane back to Singapore.

The flight was eventually allowed to land for refuelling, but the passengers were not allowed to disembark.

For three hours, the flight remained on the tarmac, with passengers becoming increasingly angry.

"After refuelling, the pilot was trying to take off when passengers created a ruckus. The pilot conveyed that he would not fly with angry passengers,'' said Nepal-based journalist Yubaraj Ghimire.

The Nepali Times reported that passengers started calling relatives and piling on political pressure, leading to intervention by Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Yogesh Bhattarai.

The newspaper reported that he made the point that it would send the wrong message internationally if Nepal refused to allow entry to its own citizens.

 
 

"This happened because there is a lot of confusion and a lack of clarity on government policy," said Mr Ghimre.

After the passengers were allowed to disembark, three were put into quarantine.

The confusion over multiple government orders is now seen to have been sorted out, with Nepal banning all international flights till March 31.