Thamel nightlife stirring from Covid-19 slumber, but risk not over yetPublic health officials see a great risk of virus transmission in the absence of stringent monitoring mechanisms.
Samir Kharel, 35, is happy to hear that late-night establishments at Thamel have opened.
“It’s so monotonous to stay at home. At least now I can have a good time with my friends with a drink,” said Kharel, a banker.
Nisha Karki, 26, a freelance journalist, is also equally pleased to learn that nightlife in Thamel is open.
“I was there two weeks ago. The vibrant Thamel had a deserted look,” said the journalist. “I guess the hard time is over now because Covid-19 vaccine is ready. I guess we can party all night in Thamel.”
But despite some countries starting to vaccinate their people against the coronavirus, it will be a while before Nepalis start to get vaccinated.
The risk is still there although businesses have restarted and the night time business operators of Thamel are the latest one to open their doors to customers, nearly nine months after they were closed.
“After our three-day protest two weeks ago, we have got verbal approval from the Chief District Office to operate till 11 pm,” said Dwang Tamang, coordinator of NightLife Association in Thamel. “Once health protocols are monitored by the government authorities. The CDO office has assured us that we will be allowed to open our night businesses till 12 am.”
After nearly nine months of complete closure, the nightlife in Thamel has gradually started to take momentum, as 50 percent of night business operators have started to open their establishments, according to Thamel Tourism Development Council.
However, virologists see a great risk at operating night businesses, as there is no possibility of stringent monitoring mechanisms.
“We are at greater risk of transferring the virus. I think it’s quite impossible to maintain social distance in a disco or a nightclub,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Hospital, Teku.
Nightlife operators who run dance bars, pubs, clubs, lounges, restaurants and burger houses had resumed their businesses from last week, although officials say they officially let open the businesses from Friday.
The tourist hub has had no foreign tourists ever since the start of the nationwide lockdown that started on March 24, but nightlife business operators and stakeholders say this is not a concern.
“Ninety-five percent of customers who get involved in Thamel’s nightlife are Nepalis,” said Bhabishwor Sharma, vice-president of Thamel Tourism Development Council. “Therefore, the dearth of foreigners does not matter much for the night-time businesses.”
This is good news for the employees too. Sharma said with the reopening of night time businesses in Thamel, fifty percent of employees are set to get back their lost jobs.
According to the council, Thamel has nearly 100 nightlife business houses that employ about 30,000 people. Of these, over 60 percent were laid off after the country went into lockdown, said Sharma.
The council’s report shows that Thamel has over 10,000 businesses in 2,000 houses. Of these, over 700 businesses have already been closed since the lockdown in March.
According to the Covid-19 Tourism Business Disaster Committee’s report formed under the council, 270 travel and tour agencies, clothing shops, curio shops, restaurants and hotels were closed till July.
“We do not have the recent data but since July, many businesses have closed and others are on the verge of closing. We are committed to reopening Thamel’s night life by following health protocols set by the government,” said Sharma.
He said the council, in coordination with the district administration office, Kathmandu Metropolitan City and other stakeholders, is going to monitor the recently opened night businesses and check if they are following the health protocols.
“We are going to take all kinds of precautions while operating night businesses,” said Sharma.
Council officials say once the health protocols are examined in restaurants, clubs, bars, pubs and other night businesses, they will be requesting the government to allow them to run their business till midnight.
Meanwhile, night business operators say that they are facing hard times to sustain their businesses, as they have to pay the house rent, pay their staff and pay off bank loans.
“Due to the lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions, nightlife business operators suffered a great loss. The government should help us pay our bank loans,” said Tamang, who is also the owner of Ibyza lounge and DiscoTheque in Thamel.
Sharma, meanwhile, said the council and business stakeholders in Thamel have already submitted a memorandum to the finance and tourism ministers to look into their financial problems and long-term sustainability in their night businesses.
But people like Kharel, potential clients for these night businesses, are concerned about their health and safety as well.
“I am equally worried about contracting the virus while visiting these night businesses” said Kharel.
And health experts agree that he has every reason to be concerned.
“The safety concern is equally important for those who operate their night business in Thamel, as there is a higher risk of operators being infected by the virus and being the superspreader,” said Pun. “They should take extra precautions.”