Fate of Sagarmatha Sambaad hangs in balance amid virus fearsThe first edition of the Sambaad, scheduled for the first week of April, is likely to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the measures taken to limit its spread.
The rapid spread of the Covid-19 has meant that many international events have either been cancelled or could be in the near future. With speculation over major events like the Tokyo Olympics, there is concern about the first edition of Nepal’s Sagarmatha Sambaad, slated for the first week of April.
Though the government has yet to postpone the dialogue, as officials are still assessing the situation, experts in the field of health and international relations say that the government should rethink the Sambaad due to the large scale of the coronavirus outbreak, which, since December, has spread to 50 countries and six continents.
The Sambaad, held under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is a multi-stakeholder dialogue forum akin to the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi and the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The first edition of the Sambaad is planned for April 2 to 4 in Kathmandu on the theme, ‘Climate Change, Mountains, and the Future of Humanity.’
The government has already sent out invitations to 150 foreign delegates—of whom 60 are speakers—but in the wake of the global pandemic, numerous countries have restricted international travel and either cancelled or postponed various public functions, events, gatherings and sports events.
Khadga KC, a professor at Tribhuvan University’s Department of International Relations who is also on the Steering Committee of the Sambaad, told the Post that they have yet to assess the potential impacts of the coronavirus on the Sagarmatha Sambad.
“But now, the time has come to think it over,” said KC. “We have seen reports that numerous flights are suspended and many events have been rescheduled. Travel has also been restricted. We need to hold a meeting and rethink holding the Sagarmatha Sambaad.”
Burdened with a weak health system, Nepal lacks critical infrastructure at the airport to check travellers and their travel records, along with proper health and quarantine facilities, trained health workers, adequate logistics and other equipment to deal with an outbreak.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a reemerging infectious diseases specialist at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, said that Nepal should definitely assess the unfolding situation outside the country and its own pandemic preparedness.
“The spread of the virus has become a global concern and several developed countries are facing difficulties tackling it. But what is our plan?” said Pun. “The outbreak has not stopped events like Visit Nepal Year 2020. The Sagarmatha Sambad should be postponed for the time being. It can be organised once the outbreak stops.”
But officials at the Sagarmatha Sambaad Secretariat told the Post that they’ve been receiving confirmations to attend from various speakers and as of now, there is no plan to cancel or postpone the event.
“We are aware of the outbreak and we have been continuously following news from across the globe. But as of now, we have not taken any decisions to postpone the Sambaad,” said Kumar Kharel, joint secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is coordinating the Sambaad.
One senior Foreign Ministry official, however, admitted that very few high-profile people have expressed interest and there is likely to be a turnaround in speakers and participants due to the sudden outbreak of the virus.
The World Health Organization has said that it is greatly concerned about the outbreak, which began in China’s Hubei Province. Although cases are falling in China, the virus is spreading fast across the world.
“It's what is happening in the rest of the world that is now our greatest concern,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO's director-general, on Thursday.
According to Kharel, the government is waiting for the situation to unfold, as there is still a month to go for the Sambaad and no participants have cancelled so far.
“As of now, we are very much on track and we are hopeful that event will be held as per the schedule,” said Kharel. “Around 50 out of 70 speakers have confirmed their participation so it is too early to decide whether to postpone it or not.”