There were finally put on a Nepal Airlines flight that was returning from Sydney after ferrying 281 Australian and New Zealanders stranded in Nepal by the COVID-19 lockdown.
“It took a tremendous amount of coordination, and a few times it looked like the kits would not make it,” said Ranjit Acharya, an advertising executive who did most of the running around to get the clearances.
It was a complicated process. The kits had to be first brought from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur by truck where the Nepal Airlines Airbus 330 was to pick them up during a refuelling stop on the flight out from Kathmandu to Sydney. This was because the plane was returning non-stop.
However, there were last minute hitches in getting the permission to get the cargo from Singapore Changi airport to Kuala Lumpur airport by land. Then the entire exercise was nearly called off after the Malaysian civil aviation authorities nearly did not allow the kits on the plane, saying the flight was not cleared to carry cargo.
“We had a Plan B and Plan C, but luckily with help of the Nepal Embassy and the civil aviation authorities, the kits were loaded,” said Acharya, who was on hand at Kathmandu airport on Thursday for the arrival of the kits which had flown all the way to Australia and back. Acharya had earlier coordinated the airlift of 10,000 PCR test kits and PPEs donated by Singapore’s Temasek Foundation to Nepal last month.
The Swiss COVID 19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test kits include RNA extractors which Nepal’s health authorities were running out of. They were handed over by Swiss Ambassador to Nepal Elisabeth von Capeller to Health Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal on Thursday.
“It was better than a thriller to get the kits to Nepal after travelling around the world,” von Capeller said. “It was only possible because of the huge teamwork between the government, private sector, the airline.”
She said it was important for Nepal to have enough testing kits to identify possibly infected people so they can be isolated, and emphasised the need for all three levels of government to be involved in controlling the disease.
“The provincial and local governments have been doing an unbelievable job, and I cannot imagine how it would have been without them,” von Capeller added. “There are the structures of the future and we are glad we can contribute to supporting them.”
The flight was also an achievement for Nepal Airlines, which conducted its longest ever flight with its Airbus 330 by flying 12 hours and 7 minutes non-stop back to Kathmandu from Sydney. The flight had three shifts of crew for the 32-hour roundtrip journey.
“It was an incredible feeling to fly the Nepal flag all the way to Australia and back, and especially this last record long leg for us,” said Vijay Lama a senior captain with Nepal Airlines.