Virus goes to the villagesDashain has been a low-key affair this year. But it might have helped spread the coronavirus.
The consensus among those who celebrated the festival and those who did not celebrate it for various reasons seems to be that this Dashain has been the most unusual one in a long time. Dashain pani Dashain jastai lagena (This Dashain is no Dashain at all) has probably been the most ubiquitously heard phrase during the biggest festival of a majority of Nepalis.
Notwithstanding the subdued excitement, though, a significant section of Nepalis celebrated the festival in closed settings. Family gatherings were much smaller, and the trend of people going from one house to another to receive tika and blessings was all but non-existent. Many who were overtly conscious about the hazard of travelling for the festival in the midst of the pandemic—or even those who had no means to travel anyway—stayed put where they were. Covid-19 has evidently changed the way we Nepalis celebrate Dashain.
But has Dashain changed the way the coronavirus is transmitted in Nepal? Did it break the chain of transmission or exacerbate it further? That is of a bigger concern as we prepare to leave the festival behind and get back to work before we get ready for two upcoming big festivals, Tihar and Chhath. As of Wednesday, Nepal has reached 162,354, with 39,643 active cases. The country registered 1,954 new transmissions and 11 new deaths in the past 24 hours. The number of new transmissions seems to have come down at first glance, but this could very well be an incomplete number for various reasons.
As the numbers are just coming in after a hiatus of a few days, a period that saw a decrease in the number of people seeking tests for the virus, we will have to wait for a few more days to see a more reliable set of data. Moreover, as reported by the Post before Dashain, the number of people seeking tests or volunteering for contact tracing has come down significantly due to the government's withdrawal of free treatment of coronavirus patients. The extent of the damage done by the coronavirus will present itself in the next couple of weeks when the fresh transmissions hit maturity. What is crystal clear already, though, is that no matter how much we blamed the virus for a low-key festival, the Nepali citizenry let go of basic safety protocols as they refrained from wearing masks and maintaining physical distance mostly in tier-two and tier-three cities and villages that saw an influx of people.
Having done nothing substantial to contain the virus or enhance the health infrastructure to address the growing number of patients, the government had lost the moral authority to ask people to refrain from travelling for the festival. In remaining a mute spectator even as thousands of people moved to different parts of the country, the government passively helped the coronavirus travel to every nook and corner. If the phrase Gaun-Gaun Ma Singha Durbar (Singha Durbar in Every Village) had not taken off in federal Nepal, Gaun-Gaun Ma Coronavirus has probably become a reality in pandemic-era Nepal. We must brace ourselves for what is to come in the next few weeks.