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Aircraft not chartered, say officials

Phub Dem | Paro

Ninety-three medical students from Sri Lanka were welcomed with a surprise at the Paro International Airport yesterday. They left Sri Lanka prepared for the two-week mandatory quarantine, but learnt on arriving, that it has been increased to 21 days.

While some students applauded the government’s decision to increase the quarantine period, others were worried.

A few students said that if they knew the quarantine period was extended, they would have stayed back in their college.

A girl said that she was worried if her college would resume studies before they complete the quarantine period. “Internationally the quarantine period is two weeks, we cannot change the fact reasoning some exceptional cases which were detected positive after 14 days,” she said.

She said that some students, especially final year students, stayed back because they were not sure about the reopening of the college and with the fear that they might miss classes.

A third-year medical student of General Sir John Kotelawala Defense University said that they were taught that the incubation period was 14 days. “The Prime Minister being an expert in the medical field must have extended it with certain reasons,” she said

Some students said that they were willing to intern and help the medical staff especially in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Even though we are third-year medical students, if given a chance we are ready to serve the country,” a student said.

A parent of a medical student in Sri Lanka, Tshering Dorji coordinated to bring home all 182 medical students after many parents requested him.

He said that the process was taxing. “Even though the government was willing to pay the cost, we requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate the evacuation with parents willing to bear the cost.”

Initially, two flights were arranged with a boarding capacity of 126 each since parents of 139 medical students agreed to evacuate their children.

He said that the operational cost of two flights, when divided among 139 students, came around Nu 37,200.

However, at the last minute, only 93 students registered.

“As 93 students could be accommodated in one flight, the other was cancelled and the cost reduced,” he said. The excess amount was refunded yesterday.

He said that the students came with parents undertaking and that everything was sorted out including informing the students about the opening of college one to two weeks ahead of time.

Deputy General Manager of the commercial department, Bhutan Airlines, Sonam Yangchen, said that the company charged only the operational cost, which includes fuel, direct maintenance, ground landing and crew.

She said that the flight couldn’t be categorised as a chartered flight because there was no profit.

Each passenger paid Nu 29,851.61 as fixed cost.

Meanwhile, swab sample of a passenger showing flu-like symptom was sent to the Royal Centre for Disease Control at Serbithang, Thimphu for testing.

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