Hundreds of stranded Americans left Nepal on a repatriation flight Tuesday, days after a complete lockdown was imposed in the Himalayan nation to help fight the coronavirus.
A Qatar Airways flight arranged by the U.S. government flew out 302 Americans from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport to Washington, D.C. The elderly, families with children and people with a medical condition were given priority on the flight.
The U.S. Embassy in Nepal estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 Americans are still in the country, but says that not all of them are seeking to leave. Plans for future flights to evacuate more of the Americans were unclear.
Passengers on board Tuesday’s flight said they paid $1,250 for the seat home.
“I have a three-month visa and I was hoping to stay another month and a half or so,” said one of the passengers, Ryan Paugh, a software engineer from Washington, D.C., who was trekking in Nepal. “We don’t feel like we want to leave, but it is the right decision to get back to the U.S. until the pandemic can calm down.”
Cameron Collins, a plumber from Albany, New York, was trekking and learning yoga when he too decided to shorten his trip and head back home.
“I just feel as if I should go home and be with my family,” he said. “I am just nervous of the outcome.”
There were an estimated 10,000 foreign tourists in Nepal when the lockdown was imposed last week. Over the weekend, two flights to Germany and one to France took Europeans out of the country.
The U.S. ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry, said it took several days to gather Americans from various places and bring them to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, before the flight could be arranged.
“We wanted to make sure we had time to get those people back in from those remote locations so that we were able to send a flight back to the States in fact capturing as many people as we can,” Berry said.
As a result of the lockdown, all flights have been halted in Nepal and vehicles have been ordered off the road, while businesses, markets and offices have been closed.
Nepal has confirmed five cases of the coronavirus, including one person who has recovered.
Tourism is a major driver of revenue for the Himalayan nation, with the country’s government having recently planned an economic growth strategy around the sector.
By Binaj Gurubacharya for the Associated Press. Additional reporting by The Diplomat.