Even amidst fears about Covid-19, Holi celebrations to go through unabatedThe Kathmandu District Administration Office has already given permission for 15 concerts and events, a number that is expected to rise as Monday nears.
The festival of Holi is less than a week away and with rising fears over the global coronavirus outbreak, the celebration could’ve been a dud, but it doesn’t look likely.
The Ministry of Health and Population has already advised that large crowds and public gatherings be avoided as a precautionary measure against the spread of Covid-19. But Holi, which falls on Monday in the Capital, is a time of good-spirited fun with a community, and if the district administration office is to be believed—and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t—Nepalis are not going to allow a global epidemic to get in the way of a good time.
Numerous organisers have already sought permission from the Kathmandu district administration office to hold concerts and events for Holi, according to officials.
“The administration office has already given permission to over 15 organisers to hold concerts and events here in Kathmandu,” said Deputy Superintendent Hobindra Bogati, spokesperson at the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Range. “The numbers of such events may increase as there are still some days remaining for Holi.”
According to Bogati, the police, as usual, will be instituting a special security plan for the festival, which includes deploying around 3,000 police personnel in uniform as well as in plainclothes.
“But even while providing security, we are planning to conduct an awareness programme about the coronavirus and its precautionary measures,” said Bogati.
Public health experts, however, have advised that as long as Covid-19 is about, crowds should be avoided as much as possible.
“Mass gatherings should be restricted at this time,” said Dr Anup Bastola, chief consultant on tropical medicine at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital. “Even while celebrating Holi, a face mask should be worn and it will be better if the festival is celebrated with family, as celebrating with a crowd might not be safe right now.”
Meanwhile, Kathmandu District Administration Office has requested the members of the public to refrain from organising any kind of gatherings, fair and festivals including Holi or participating in it as a safety measure against the coronavirus.
"We request all the people to not organise or participate in anykind of celebrations, fair or festivals including Holi until further notice asa safety measure against coronavirus,” the administration office said in a press statement on Thursday.
So far, there has only been one reported case of the coronavirus in Nepal, and that patient has long been cured and discharged. Fears continue to abound, but the government has not yet taken the drastic step of proscribing public gatherings completely.
The Nepal Police will also be looking out for their own, as police personnel will be providing security for large crowds and will be equally vulnerable to any errant coronaviruses lingering in the air or on surfaces.
“For safety concerns, we have asked our personnel to wear masks, especially officers who work at the airport, on traffic duty and in crowds,” said Deputy Inspector General Shailesh Thapa Kshetri, spokesperson for the Nepal Police. “We have also requested our officers to wash their hands frequently and if they feel sick, to immediately report to the hospital. We also asked them not to shake hands and only do namaste.”
The paranoia about the coronavirus might be new this year but for numerous previous years, there have been many who’ve dreaded the festival of Holi for entirely different reasons—harassment and molestation.
Over the years, Holi has become notorious for the amount of harassment that women undergo at the hands of roving gangs of young men in face paint. In recent years, responding to widespread calls for safety, the police have instituted stern measures, including taking people into custody for lobbing water balloons at unsuspecting pedestrians on their way to work.
“Although we are not authorised to stop any events, we have taken full responsibility to provide security as many women are often harassed or molested under the guise of throwing balloons or smearing colour,” said Bogati. “Strict action will be taken if anyone is found indulging in unruly activities under the influence of alcohol or bhaang.”
According to police, offenders will be booked as per the Public (Crime and Punishment) Act 1970, which forbids riotous behaviour, molestation, battery, nuisance or misconduct with the intention of harassing or causing trouble to another person.
The District Administration Office too may levy fines of up to Rs10,000, two years in jail, or both, depending on the gravity of the offence, if convicted.
This article has been updated to include Kathmandu District Administration Office’s statement.
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.