Stranded foreign tourists in South Asia evacuated amidst COVID-19 fear

Thousands of tourists stranded in South Asian nations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic are being evacuated on special flights

Kavita Bajeli-Datt Mar 27, 2020
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Thousands of tourists stranded in South Asian nations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic are being evacuated on special flights. Germany and France has pulled out their citizens from India. India has suspended both international and domestic flights after a nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Similar operations were carried out from Nepal, the gateway to Mt. Everest visited by thousands of trekkers and the Maldives, famous for its pristine beaches.

According to media reports, a plane chartered by Germany took 304 people out of Nepal’s capital city Kathmandu in the first of a series of flights aiming to ferry more than 10,000 people stuck in this Himalayan nation.

As South Asia is fast emerging as the new hotspot for the COVID-19 spread, the cancellation of international air traffic has left the tourists stranded.

According to officials, while in Sri Lanka around 17,000 tourists are stuck, in India, many more are waiting to be rescued.

Officials said the plane that left Kathmandu was carrying Germans and other European nationals. Other countries are also planning to do the same.

A second German flight will leave soon and the Australian embassy is also planning to charter a special flight, the official said.

Other countries, including the US, are trying to secure joint flights too.

Nepal's government estimates about 10,000 people - from Europe, Australia, South Korea, the US and India - are in far-flung places across the Himalayan nation that halted all international flights last weekend. About 200 trekkers are waiting at Everest base camp.

Nepalese authorities said they have rescued around 200 tourists stranded in remote mountainous areas and high altitude trekking trails. They said many more are still stuck in remote areas and need to be rescued.

France and German governments have also organised local flights to get their nationals from remote towns to the Nepalese capital. Some hotels have given free rooms and meals to the stranded tourists.

Sri Lankan authorities have allowed almost 17,000 foreign tourists to use their canceled flight tickets as curfew pass after incoming flights were halted and a nationwide lockdown imposed. Many are stuck in beach resorts far from Colombo airport.

The Maldives, whose economy is totally dependent on tourism, on Friday halted the arrival of all visitors and ordered the 135 resort islands to ask tourists to vacate within two weeks.

The archipelago of 340,000 people has reported 13 confirmed coronavirus infections and all are foreigners. On Friday, one local was tested positive for the virus.

The US has already announced that it was organising a special flight next week to take its nationals based in Pakistan.

Most of the South Asian nations have announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the pandemic. The virus has spread to at least 176 countries and regions, killing over 24,100 people and infecting 537,000.