Controversy in Nepal over Covid vaccines ‘smuggled’ in by Bahrain prince

Kathmandu, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- The second mountaineering expedition in Nepal by the prince of Bahrain has become mired in a controversy after it became known that the group brought a shipment of 2,000 anti-Covid vaccines for donation onboard their private jet without the approval of Nepali health authorities.

“We deployed a team of drug inspectors and seized the vaccines on Tuesday. We have launched a formal investigation on how the vaccines were brought into the country without any prior approval,” Bharat Bhattarai, the director general of the Department of Drug Administration, told EFE on Wednesday.

Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa and the rest of the 15-member group – including three British citizens – arrived in Nepal earlier this week aiming to scale Mt Everest in May, after having climbed world’s eighth highest peak, Mt Manaslu, in October as part of the preparations.

The ascent, which took place two days before the official opening of the country for foreign mountaineers, came as an important economic boost for Nepal after the devastating impact of the pandemic, with the expedition paying around $1.5 million for a month-long program.

After the success of the expedition, authorities in Samagaun – situated in the Gorkha district which includes Manaslu – decided to name one of the local hills after the royal family of Bahrain, while the latter aimed to respond by donating 2,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to locals.

However, Bhattarai said that anybody importing vaccines to the country had to go through official channels to ensure that the security requirements were met and the cold chain was maintained, while supplying the pertinent documents to the medical regulator. These conditions were allegedly not met by the Bahraini group.

On its part, the agency in charge of organizing the expedition, Seven Summit Treks, has claimed that they had fulfilled all requirements suggested by the Nepali embassy in Bahrain.

“As per the plan, the Bahrain team was expected to meet the health ministry officials at the Kathmandu airport to hand over the vaccines for storage, but no one appeared. It looked like no one was informed,” Seven Summit Treks spokesperson Thaneshwor Guragain told EFE.

According to the spokesperson, there had been “a mix-up, miscommunication between Nepal’s government’s agencies” and the visitors were not at fault. EFE-EPA


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