We fled Kathmandu in the middle of April 2020; now it is March again and what a lot hasn’t happened since then. Simon’s project has continued (with him working remotely) but it was time for us to return to Nepal. Simon wanted to see for himself how the water supplies, footbridges, footpaths, quarantine centres and programmes to improve livelihoods are progressing. Meanwhile I shall be pursuing avenues to counter the disinformation that is circulating about covid vaccines. The Astra Zeneca ‘Oxford’ vaccine – which is being made in India under licence – has arrived in Nepal but naturally some people are concerned because it is a new vaccine and perhaps that it is less efficacious compared to the profit-making competition (Pfizer are making 80% profit on theirs). I’d even heard some saying that this is the First World dumping substandard vaccine on the Third World. I don’t believe that the AZ vaccine is substandard and personally I am relying on the one dose of it that I’ve had to protect me.
I’ve already had some discussions with BBC Media Action who make radio programmes on important issues including health information during the pandemic (see Milijuli radio
) and have offered to be a resource for them again while looking for other means of reassuring everyone that it is vaccination that will protect us, reduce the spread of new variants, release us from the clutches of this pandemic and allow a return to some kind of normality.
Being allowed to travel to Nepal, of course, took some sorting. Simon’s work is British-government-funded aid and we travelled with the blessing of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and even had a letter bearing a British Embassy logo saying so. Then he had a letter from the Nepali Department of Finance and two other ministries, covid test certificates, forms completed for the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre (Nepal), confirmation of a quarantine hotel booking. Then at check-in the Qatar groundstaff wanted us to complete another form saying we’d had the covid test (this was in addition to the covid test result certificate they’d seen) and then a disclaimer because we’d not booked into the correct approved quarantine hotel. Qatar, clearly didn’t want us sent back from Kathmandu on arrival. All in all then, there was a variable sheaf of paper to wave at everyone as we completed check-in. So no wonder Heathrow seemed so very quiet. Indeed only terminals two and five are functioning at present, and woe, woe and thrive woe, Harrods at Heathrow was also closed.
We’d been asked to check in four hours before departure and things seemed to be going well but then we noticed that the flight information boards were blank and once we’d boarded we discovered that the airport computer system had crashed so the rest of the passengers tricked aboard over the next three hours. Finally – when the plane was 70% full – the plane started to move. We caught our connecting flight in Doha (Qatar are great about ensuring such things) and boarded a full airbus for Kathmandu. The days of half-full cabins are apparently long gone and the only nod to social distancing on board were requests by cabin crews to disembark one row at a time – which everyone ignored.
Unsurprisingly disembarkation formalities were also complicated and our plane-load of people had to queue in the fresh air (again without social distancing) in get into the Arrivals hall as two beleaguered people checked COVID test certificates, and then inside we queued again to have our passports stamped.
So here we are back in our flat in Kathmandu – in quarantine. The sun is shining even if the atmosphere is its usual kind of mud-colour and the PM2.5
count is 67 (WHO says that the count for healthy air should be below 25). I’ve needed to be reminded of the small complications of life here, like ordering the drinking water tanker to come and the struggling electricity supply which only just manages if we have the toaster and the microwave on simultaneously. And I know I used them in my audiobook (see Glimpse audiobook
), but I’d already half-forgotten the ebullience and joyfulness of the birds which are in full voice just now.
| Cloudless skies at Tribhuvan International Airport
| Whatever the Sanitizer Tunnel was supposed to be for,
it wasn't functioning for our arrival