Jane Wilson-Howarth

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When will it hit the fan?

Friday, 20 March 2020
The Lincoln (American) School closed on Monday and The British School here in Kathmandu closes as of today. Expatriate teachers have been given the option to flee back home in light of the current pandemic and some have decided to do just that. All Everest summiting expeditions have been cancelled, flights to Lukhla – gateway to the Everest Region – have stopped and currently anyone who arrived in the country within the last couple of weeks isn’t going to be allowed to going trekking unless they can come up with a medical certificate and a recent PCR test result. And where is anyone going to acquire one of those?
Kathmandu is strangely quiet and has been since before the Holi colour-throwing celebrations on 9th March. Nepali government directives were to avoid playing Holi and stay inside. More recently gatherings of more than 25 people are discouraged, schools are closed and even the city’s zoo has its gates barred. Weddings, though, continue. They are exempt even though they are notorious for disease-transmission and 300 guests would constitute a small gathering. Most of us old hands living in Nepal has had a bout of dysentery from one or other wedding.
People are worried in the city. They feel that the government isn’t doing enough and
yet it is clear that citizens aren’t following instructions as well as they might. It seems odd that Nepalis need to be reminded of the health benefits of avoiding physical contact when greeting others when the traditional way of saying hello is to Namaste – holding one’s hands palms together like saying a prayer. With ‘modernisation’ though so many shake hands or hug.
Temperatures are being checked at airports and when we flew down to Dhangadhi at the weekend we were also handed a sheet reminding us of the WHO messages. Despite this and large posters all over the place, I am yet to see anyone sneezing into their elbow.
There is – so far though – no evidence of panic-buying. We have plenty of toilet roll but probably that’s because no-one is using it to catch sneezes or coughs – there is still that lovely dawn chorus of hawking, throat clearing and the sound of a big glob of phlegm hitting the pavement.
People are getting upset about the unavailability of paper and cloth masks locally though – tailors are having a field day – and police are seizing consignments of illegally shipped surgical masks. One encounters hand gel all over the place in the city despite the government’s sensible advice to wash often with soap and water and when I tried to inform a friend about the poor efficacy of gel she responded rather tartly, ‘Oh yes, we all know about that, Jane,’ and she continued gelling.
Thusfar we have had just one confirmed case of Covid-19 in Nepal and I am pleased to say that this patient fully recovered. Experts say that the quality of the testing is good but journalists say that insufficient numbers are being tested for us to know if the virus is really here.
According to today’s Nepali Times not even everyone presenting to the country’s Infectious Diseases Specialist Hospital (in Teku) with flu-like symptoms are being tested. The hospital’s one PCR machine can only test 500 patients a week, and after our first positive case, all others have been negative.
Things are quiet on the streets at present and masks are being worn (mostly on the chin) although the air quality is so poor in the Valley that mask-wearing is nothing new. As plane-loads of exiting expatriates leave the country (the last flights out for at least until the end of the month are this weekend), the rest of us wait and wonder when the proverbial will hit the fan.
 
 Temperature-screening at Dhangadhi airport at the weekend
 
 On the right, the colour of new filters and on the left the colour after I've
cycled in Kathmandu for a couple of hours
 
 A poster reminding folks about Covid-19 precautions

For a little more on the theme click Revenge of the Pangolin
Or if you'd like a feel-good read set in Nepal try Snowfed Waters



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