Fear amid corona threat

Published On: March 23, 2020 10:34 AM NPT By: Prem Lamichhane

Nepal is losing tourism even though it is still an unaffected country. We can imagine what actually would have happened if Nepal was actually hit by coronavirus

An email from an editor of one of the leading French dailies who cancelled her trip to Nepal due to the threat of coronavirus made me unhappy. She was going to visit Nepal for a few weeks and cover some travel related news. She said she had to cancel in response to Nepal government’s decision to ban ‘on arrival visa’ to French nationals. 

Nepal is losing tourism even though it is still an unaffected country. We can imagine what actually would have happened if Nepal was actually hit by coronavirus. 

Thamel has become lonely with very few tourists. Owners of hotels and travel agencies told me that the number of tourists flow has drastically dropped and their business has suffered badly. Some of them are paying half salary to the staffs and others have asked them to simply leave. 

Coronavirus threat has affected tourism, the mainstay of our economy most. Employees are losing jobs or paid less. Those who invested in tourism sector are waiting for a possible relief package from the government. Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) has already said that they have proposed Nepal Rastra Bank through the Finance Minister for the possible incentives to support tourism stakeholders—such as imposing less interest on their loan, making tax free on trade, and so on. 

This year was supposed to be our Visit Nepal Year. We were promoting visits to Nepal with national marathons, seminars, posters in public buses. We had aimed to bring two million foreign tourists. Ministry of Tourism had tried their best to reach out to different countries with promotional events. The threat of contagion changed everything. Nepal cancelled the Visit Nepal year, which it should not have. It could have simply pushed the event to 2022 or 2025.

Few days back, we celebrated Holi, a festival of color. Unlike previous years, this year, much less number of people went out to play holi in a mass. There were no crowds in Basantapur and Thamel, as if we were afraid of foreigners. Nepalis have been seen avoiding foreigners in Thamel. A week back, just before my flight was landed in TIA, passengers were warned to take extra precaution of coronavirus in Nepal. I was shocked to see the replacement of ‘Visit Nepal 2020’ posters with the coronavirus awareness posters. Moreover, most staffs were on masks, which gave me a sense as if Nepal has been severely victimized with the coronavirus.

Black marketing is rising in Nepal, facing shortage out of nothing. For instance, a mask that actually cost five rupees has started to cost as much as Rs 40 and yet it is still unavailable. People are hoarding edibles and cooking gas. Amid this, Men’s Room Reloaded (MRR), a Facebook group of over one lakh members, has taken an initiative against black marketing by creating hotline number 1137. Nepal Police have already arrested a number of people involved in black marketing. Such initiatives should be encouraged and expanded. Media should also desist from spreading threatening news of coronavirus. Media can and should play a major role in making people stay alert. 

Obviously every sector has been affected due to the global coronavirus threat. Countries like Nepal are affected more because we are a very small economy. We are acting as if we are engulfed by coronavirus. Acting like we have already been victimized will send the message that we won’t be able to handle the situation, if it occurs. Let’s act wisely during the times of crisis. 

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