The COVID-19 patients with severe degree of symptoms need prompt rush to central medical facilities, and if the location of the victim is faraway from the centre, rescue planes, choppers and air ambulances have to be used. Operation of such air ambulances, if available in time, can do miracles in saving lives in danger. But in the time of COVID-19 pandemic, air rescue flights have to be operated in a systematic way to ensure safety, cost bearing arrangements and priority determination of airlifting. In this regard, the government has issued fresh guideline to airlift people with critical coronavirus symptoms. The government guideline says that though private airlines may provide such service, priority will be given to Nepal Army helicopters to air rescue people in such conditions. If the private airlines are willing to provide such services, they can apply for the same. The Ministry of Health and Population will shortlist such airlines and grant permission to carry out the COVID-19 rescue flights.
The air rescue will be carried out to transport the patients in serious conditions for which a referral letter of the hospital is necessary. Those patients with low or medium level of risks will not be eligible for being airlifted. The government has been shouldering the costs of COVID-19 treatment but this provision will not apply for those who get airlifted and undergo further treatment. The government guideline also requires the concerned airlines to make arrangement of necessary medical team. There is the provision to arrange at least two health workers including a medical officer on board the rescue aircraft. As the aircraft is involved in transporting a patient in critical condition, it must be well equipped to deal with the critical needs of the patient. Necessary arrangements include oxygen, lifesaving medicines, adequate amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitisers and disinfectants. These vital supplies may be needed to both the patient and the attending medical personnel. Medical personnel participating in such rescue mission are at high risk of infection. They should adequately protect themselves as well as take critical care of the patient as well.
When the air rescued patient arrives at the airport, he or she should be rushed to the pre-ascertained medical facility without delay because time is a critical factor playing between life and death at such a situation. Sometimes delays result in tragedy while swiftness saves life. Considering this, the government guideline stipulates that an ambulance, arranged by the concerned hospital, should be ready at the place of landing. The hospital taking in and treating the patient has to abide by the fee rule prescribed by the guideline. No hospital can charge the patient exceeding the prevailing rates. An army officer, however, said that the internal structure of the rescue helicopters and planes need to be converted before they can be used for the new purpose. Usually, the aircraft are designed to transport normal people or goods but in their new role as air ambulances, they need to be converted and well equipped accordingly.