Hill districts in Sudurpaschim organise grand fairs despite the nationwide lockdownIn the last two weeks, Bajhang and Baitadi saw fairs attracting more than 300 people.
Every year between mid-March and mid-April, the holy shrines in the hill districts of Sudurpaschim Province see grand fairs (melas) and religious gatherings. These congregations see the sacrifice of hundreds of buffaloes, goats, pigeons and chickens offered to the gods.
This year was no different. Despite the nationwide lockdown in place to prevent the outbreak of Covid-19, people organised several religious fairs in many hill districts, including Bajhang and Baitadi, of the Province.
In Bannikot of Bajhang’s Chhabispathibhera Rural Municipality, many locals defied the lockdown and attended Banniki Chaitali Mela, which took place from March 24 to April 6.
“Around 300 people attended the fair in the last two weeks. Locals of upper and lower Pathibhera also participated in the Banniko Bhakundo (football) competition,” said Ridam Singh, a local of Jayaprithvi Municipality.
The local administration claims that until Monday, it was “unaware” of such a mass gathering taking place in Bajhang. Umesh Pandeyay, chief district officer of Bajhang, said that the local administration had directed the locals to not organise any fairs or gatherings given the current scenario.
“We had asked the locals to not organise mass gatherings of any sort during the lockdown period. But I only found out about the fair on Monday,” said Pandeyay.
The local administration sends security personnel to fairgrounds every year, but this year Pandeyay’s office did not since they were unaware of such an event taking place, he claims.
“We didn’t arrange for security this year since we thought the fairs were cancelled. We are in regular contact with the chairman of the rural municipality, but weren’t informed of such events happening in the local unit. But now they tell me there were over 300 people in the fair in the past two weeks,” Pandeyay said.
Pandeyay; however, claims that there were no outsiders among those who attended the fair in Bannikot.
“We have deployed security personnel at all border points of each local unit. Outsiders are not allowed to cross the border and enter the district; therefore, I’m confident there were no outsiders at the fair,” he said.
Meanwhile, Radhika Ratala Joshi, vice-chairperson of Chhabispathibhera, said the rural municipality had requested the locals to not organise the fair but their request was overlooked.
“A team of health workers, people’s representatives and police personnel had raised awareness among the locals about the novel coronavirus and the ways to prevent its spread,” she said, “But the locals did not listen to our appeals.”
Health workers in the district said there is a risk of the novel coronavirus spreading in Chhabispathibhera Rural Municipality given the large gathering the local unit saw in the last two weeks. Dr Milan Khadka of the District Hospital in Bajhang said the rural municipality should be completely closed off to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Every individual from the rural municipality will have to stay in quarantine now,” said Khadka.
Similarly, in Baitadi district, a group of more than 35 individuals of Shahilek Bazaar marched to Jagannath temple to offer prayers on Tuesday. The temple, in Khalanga district headquarters, is adjacent to the District Police Office in Baitadi. But the security personnel deployed at the district border did not stop the group from making their way to the temple, locals say.
Dilli Narayan Pandeyay, deputy superintendent of police at the District Police Office, said locals had informed the District Police Office that a group of not more than 20 people would visit the temple on Tuesday.
“But we didn’t know the number would cross 35,” said Pandeyay. “We can’t do much to stop a march that large in number.”
On March 18, the government banned gatherings of more than 25 people at a time, whether it be for cultural, social or religious activities.
Ananda Paudel, chief district officer of Baitadi, said he was “unaware” of what happened in the district on Tuesday.
“In a meeting organised at the local administration, we had directed locals to refrain from gathering in public places and not move in groups,” said Paudel. “We had also told them to maintain social distancing while offering pujas.”
Doctors at the District Hospital in Baitadi say that group activities heighten the risk of the spread of coronavirus and that large gatherings must be avoided at all costs. Dr Basantaraj Joshi, chief at the hospital, said such mass gatherings can cause an outbreak of the virus.
“Everybody who has been out in large numbers in the last two weeks must stay in self-quarantine. The chances of the disease spreading are high.,” said Joshi.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 27, 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. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,684,795 people with 352,225 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 150,793 with 4,344 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 886 cases with four deaths.
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.