Nepal’s coronavirus cases surge past 10,000 as tourism remains shut

By Sangam Prasain

Kathmandu, June 23 (efe-epa).- The number of coronavirus cases in Nepal crossed the 10,000-mark on Tuesday after the authorities detected 538 new infected people within the last 24 hours, with the pandemic bringing the Himalayan nation’s mainstay tourism to an abrupt halt.

The Covid-19 case count of Nepal now stands at 10,099, Jageshwor Gautam, a health ministry spokesperson, told reporters. The virus has so far claimed 24 lives in the landlocked country.

According to Gautam, the virus has engulfed 76 districts of the country, with Rasuwa in Bagmati province now the only region without any case.

“So far, 186,366 polymerase chain reaction tests and 271,584 rapid diagnostic tests have been carried out across the country,” he said.

Nepal enforced a lockdown on Mar. 2 but authorities have partially eased the restrictions from June 15.

However, flight operations will remain suspended until July 5 even though the immigration department resumed its visa services on June 15.

Restaurants are allowed to operate for takeaways only.

The government has also allowed private vehicles to ply but on alternative dates matching with the odd-even final digit on their license plates.

A study conducted in May by the United Nations Development Programme in Nepal found that the pandemic has disrupted supply chains, shut or threatened the survival of small and informal enterprises, and has been pushing highly-vulnerable people back into poverty through widespread loss of income and jobs.

The report said that three in five employees have lost their jobs in the tourism industry, the mainstay of the country’s economy.

Its earnings have been projected to fall by 60 percent this year, resulting in a loss of $400 million.

“The current crisis has (…) changed travel in ways that will endure for the foreseeable future. The ‘new normal’ will be that holiday destinations must compete based on health and safety,” Dhananjay Regmi, the chief executive officer of Nepal Tourism Board, told EFE.

On Monday, the country’s tourism promotional body published a new safety and hygiene protocol for the tourism sector to minimize risk for consumers as well as service providers.

“The government has prepared the safety and hygiene protocols and we are eagerly waiting for the announcement of resuming the tourism and airline services,” Regmi said.

As per the new protocol, a group of tourists visiting Nepal should not exceed 15 people.

Similarly, trekkers and mountaineers need to submit health certificates, and the guides assisting them have to carry appropriate satellite communications to report any emergency and ensure evacuation of any sick or potentially infected clients.

Rajan Pokhrel, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, told EFE that all scheduled passenger flights have been suspended until July 5 except especially chartered flights for repatriation.

He said that despite demand, they were unable to resume airports for international flights until other countries re-open their borders.

“A decision to resume regular international flights will be taken as soon as other countries ease restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals,” he said.

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