KATHMANDU, August 24: Huge public gatherings were witnessed in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square area on Monday as people celebrating the Gaijatra festival flooded the area. In normal days, the scene would have been usual but at a time when the country is devastated by the second wave of COVID-19 triggered by the Delta Variant, such gatherings have worried public health experts and the authorities concerned.
While health experts have been warning of the third wave of COVID-19, such huge gatherings at one place defying COVID-19 safety protocols in the name of celebrating a festival has raised questions over the consciousness of the general public who has been blaming the government for not conducting sufficient tests, not providing free treatment and so on.
Earlier on Monday, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a press statement and urged the general public to avoid large gatherings and adopt COVID-19 safety protocols. But, the government’s request had no effect on the people.
“As far as I remember, Nepal witnessed a sharp surge in the number of new cases after the festival season last year. These kinds of large gatherings give rooms for the virus to spread. I wonder why people are acting as if they know nothing about the transmission of COVID-19,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital at Teku, Kathmandu.
“To my experience, most of the people who have been admitted to Teku Hospital in recent weeks are among those who have visited vaccination centers and other places where a huge number of people were present at a time, so I believe we are likely to witness a surge in the number of new cases after five to six days,” Dr Pun added.
Likewise, most of the participants of Gaijatra were children under 18 – who have not received COVID-19 vaccines yet – and youths. “Youths and children are the most vulnerable groups for COVID-19 in the country as they are the least vaccinated population. To my surprise, children were made to participate in Gaijatra possessions where most of the people were defying COVID-19 safety protocols, including not wearing a mask,” Dr Pun lamented.
Nepal has already been severely hit by the Delta variant of COVID-19. Hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Experts are warning of a possible third wave. The government is incapable of bracing for a third wave. The country is still under lockdowns and restrictions and yet, people are largely defying COVID-19 safety protocols.
“The fact that so many people gathered at one place with most of them not even wearing a mask seemed to me to be the real Gaijatra. Yesterday, places such as Bhaktapur became sites where sheer stupidity was on display,” commented a public health expert.