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New guideline issued on COVID-19 rescue flights



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By Purushottam P. Khatri, Kathmandu, Oct. 12: The government has issued a new guideline for airlifting people critically infected with the coronavirus from any part of the country. Nepali Army choppers will be used for rescue work with priority.

"Even though the government has been bearing the entire cost of the coronavirus treatment till now, the patients who get rescued have to bear the cost themselves," according to Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, joint secretary and spokesperson at Ministry of Health and Population and spokesperson of CCMC-OPs.

As the number of coronavirus patients has increased, so has the number of critically ill patients across the country.

The number of infected people surged to 107,755 as of Sunday. On Sunday, 329 were admitted to the ICU and 76 were receiving treatment with ventilator facility across the country.

The government has issued the airlift guideline for the rescue of critical patients as the number of people requiring treatment in ICUs and ventilators is increasing along with the number of serious infections, Dr. Gautam said.

Due to the lack of adequate ICUs and ventilators in all districts and regions, the ministry has issued this criterion for airlifting critically infected people to a well-equipped hospital.

The Ministry of Health and Population has stated that the patients of COVID-19 can be rescued by using airplanes, helicopters and air ambulances.

The Ministry said interested airlines could also issue notice but made clear arrangements for giving high priority to government-owned military aircraft rather than the private ones.

"The Ministry may publish a brief notice and list the airlines wishing to airlift the patients," the criteria said. The airlift process will begin only after any hospital outside the valley recommend and write referral for it, according to the guideline.

The guideline stated that it was not possible for the hospital to treat the patient for rescue. According to the criteria, patients of ordinary and intermediate state will not be given airlift.

Airlines should themselves manage medical team

It is mentioned in the guideline that the persons booking the aircraft should themselves pay.

Provision has been made that at least two health workers including one medical officer must be on board the aircraft while carrying such critically ill or serious COVID-19 patients.

The airlines should themselves manage medical team and health workers, said Dr. Gautam.

"The aircraft must be equipped with oxygen as well as life-saving medicines, adequate amount of PPEs, sanitizers, disinfectants and other medicinal products," the standard said.

According to the guideline, there should be an advance arrangement of ambulance from the landing place to the hospital and the hospital should arrange for it.

The standard also stipulates that airlifting companies will not be allowed to charge more than the prevailing price.

Meanwhile, Nepali Army spokesperson and Brigadier General Shantosh Ballave Paudyal said although the NA was ready to conduct such flights, the NA had asked for resolving some technical difficulties and confusion with the government while conducting such flights.

He said at present Nepali Army's aircrafts had been basically coming to use in national operation like disaster rescue operation and special chartered flight for VVIPs.

"But, while providing the aircrafts for COVID-19 rescue flight, the present structure of the helicopters and airplanes of the NA need to be changed and compartments of aircrafts must be changed, which is not possible only under the leadership of NA's technical team," he said.

"Another thing is that, we have limited number of crew members and technical teams in aviation sector, and if any crew member gets caught by the virus, they must remain in 14-day isolation, and the aircrafts should be kept for disinfection for three days and keep separate medical teams in the chartered aircraft every time," BG Paudyal said.

Army has been charging over Rs. 744,000 per hour of rescue and chartered flight to be made by MI17 helicopter, Rs. 288,000 per hour if made by Equirial helicopter, Rs. 179,000 for Bell helicopter and Rs. 286,000 for sky truck-based airlift and chartered flight, he said. 

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