Oli directs Tourism Ministry to halt Visit Nepal, but minister has yet to decideConfusion continues to reign over the tourism industry as Yogesh Bhattarai has yet to make a public statement regarding the status of Visit Nepal 2020.
Despite Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli instruction to the Tourism Ministry to postpone the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign in the wake of the global coronavirus outbreak, confusion continues to persist, as the ministry still has not decided to bring down the curtain on the much-hyped tourism campaign.
Oli’s instruction at Sunday’s Cabinet meeting came as a surprise to many, including Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai who has so far been reluctant to pay heed to calls to call off the event.
“The prime minister instructed the Tourism Ministry to postpone the campaign to Visit Nepal 2022,” a member of Oli’s Cabinet told the Post on condition of anonymity.
According to Tourism Ministry officials, since the instruction was not minuted, a backdated proposal is likely to be taken to the Cabinet for approval and implementation.
Tourism Secretary Kedar Bahadur Adhikari told the Post on Sunday evening that his ministry had not tabled any proposal regarding the cancellation or postponement of Visit Nepal 2020.
A joint secretary at the ministry, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, said that they have yet to receive the Cabinet’s decision, or Oli’s instruction for that matter, to act.
“Until Monday evening, no orders have been issued by the minister,” said the joint secretary. “We are confused. In order to act, we need a formal letter from the Prime Minister’s Office, especially if it involves such a crucial decision.
Numerous attempts to reach Minister Bhattarai over the phone were unsuccessful.
The Visit Nepal Secretariat, an ad-hoc body formed to oversee tourism promotions and coordinate the campaign, is also waiting for the government’s decision.
“It came as a surprise to us,” said an official at the Secretariat, which is led by industrialist Suraj Vaidya.
The official said that the Secretariat has already released payments of Rs140 million as of the end of February. In the last fiscal year, the Secretariat spent Rs46 million on promotional activities abroad and on various events in the country. The Secretariat had prepared various programmes and projects for this fiscal year with an estimated budget of Rs617.4 million.
The Tourism Ministry has so far only cancelled tourism promotions for the month of March. That decision, too, came a day after organisers of the ITB travel trade fair in Berlin, billed as the world's biggest, cancelled the event in the German capital over fears of the coronavirus. The fair, with more than 10,000 exhibitors expected from over 180 countries, was due to open on Wednesday. The Secretariat had planned a big event for Berlin, with a conference where 300 people were scheduled to participate.
Oli, however, has directed that the entire campaign be halted.
“Looking at the scale of the virus outbreak, I think the prime minister has taken a wise decision,” said the Secretariat official, who wished to remain anonymous.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that the travel industry has already taken a huge hit due to travel restrictions.
“It’s the right decision at the right time,” said Ashok Pokhrel, president of Nepal Association of Tour Operators. “Now, we have to analyse our shortcomings and prepare accordingly. The government will have plenty of time to prepare [for the next Visit Nepal campaign].”
Tourism experts say that it is necessary for Nepal to prepare for an outbreak in Nepal, in addition to restricting promotional activities.
“We should strengthen our preparedness to stop the spread of the virus first and then develop a strategy to heal during the post-coronavirus crisis,” Deepak Raj Joshi, former CEO of the Nepal Tourism Board, told the Post in a recent interview.
Given Nepal’s fragile public health system and the lack of adequate response from the Nepal government, the World Health Organization has put Nepal at “very high” risk of a Covid-19 outbreak. The government is now scrambling to step up measures to contain a possible outbreak.
The ministry has also asked the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal to submit a report on Tuesday on whether Nepal should restrict flights to and from China based on the strategies of other countries. The outbreak of the coronavirus has prompted numerous travel restrictions to and from countries affected severely by Covid-19.
Even China has locked down areas with tens of millions of people in an attempt to stamp out the epidemic. It has also issued a travel advisory to its citizens to restrict unnecessary trips in order to contain the spread of the virus.
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued an interim order to the government asking it to stop flights movements to and from countries affected by the coronavirus. The court ruling came in response to a petition filed by advocate Purna Rajbansi.
The Foreign Ministry has also issued a travel advisory, requesting Nepalis to take precautions while travelling and to not make unnecessary trips abroad.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 4, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 204 countries and infected more than 1,098,762 people with 59,172 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 2,686 with 40 deaths. While India has reported 2,547 confirmed cases with 62 deaths. Nepal has so far reported six cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.