Kathmandu, Oct. 4: With no end in sight of the global COVID-19 pandemic in the foreseeable future, this year’s Dashain and Tihar festivals are sure to be like never before. With Dashain barely a fortnight away, the usual festive mood excitement seen around the country, this time around every year in the past, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, confusion and uncertainty have probably taken over excitement under the new normal. The simple affair of travelling back to hometown for Dashain, Tihar and Chhath to celebrate the festivals with family members, grandparents, and relatives is going to be different amidst COVID-19, and sure to be much riskier from public health point of view. The health experts and government authorities have thus suggested marking this year’s festivals with greater precautions by adhering to all public health protocols and safety measures and limiting mobility. The experts view that if the latest trend with higher rate of infection, including in Kathmandu Valley, continues, it may lead to more fatalities and there will be much more burden to the healthcare system. The experts and the government officials have advised the citizens to celebrate the festivals in a new way within one’s own home and not invite guests or visit relatives and do much hullabaloo in the name of fun and celebrations. During Dashain, many people are expected to travel out of the valley hence the current major concern is that they might carry the virus to their hometown. Kathmandu Valley is witnessing soaring number of cases day by day, and if people from here travel out to their hometowns it may pose a higher risk. Some districts with zero active cases may also get new ones. “Owing to the increasing infection rate, it will be the best idea to stay wherever you are currently and limit the movement,” said Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, Spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP). “We can celebrate the festival next year also, but what if we transmit the contagion to our elderly and the more vulnerable group,” cautioned Dr. Gautam. Travelling with people who don’t adhere to social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, and other preventive behaviour poses more risk than traveling with those who strictly adopt these preventative measuers. “Restricting people from visiting their own hometowns during the great festival is not possible, but every citizen and authority is equally responsible to contain virus spread by adopting all the public health safety measures,” said Dr. Basudev Pandey, Director at Epidemiology and Disease Control Division (EDCD). “Cases of COVID-19 might be far more than what we are witnessing on a daily basis, as the positive rate is also getting high, so we must be very cautious while celebrating the festivals,” warned Dr. Pandey. Though Dashain is meant for visiting elderly to receive blessings and tika, avoid visiting in-person with elderly and relatives, this year, suggested Dr. Pandey. Meanwhile, administrators and security officials have suggested the citizens to try travelling by their private vehicles while going to hometowns for festivals. But since the option may not be practical and feasible for all citizens, travelers can also use public transport if they feel that their personal health is ok, and that the means of transport is following the government’s safety guidelines. "The problem is with the asymptomatic cases; when such people travel by public vehicles, there is high risk of transmitting the virus to others, f District Officer (CDO) of Kathmandu, Janak Raj Dahal, said. The government has already implemented the provision of operating the public vehicles of long, medium and short routes based on the health security guidelines issued by the Department of Transport Management (DoTM). The government has made a mandatory provision of carrying passengers only in 50 per cent seats, and allowing the buses to collect additional 50 per cent fare from the passengers. The DoTM’s travel guideline allows operation of only the buses which have 16 or more seats. Other provisions include disinfecting passenger seats every day, after completing the trip, wearing face masks by each passenger, among others. Dr. Loknath Bhusal, Director at the DoTM, said that the Department had already issued the guideline to all the transport entrepreneurs while carrying passengers to their destinations. "It is now all up to the drivers, helpers, and most importantly the passengers themselves, whether to mark Dashain festival possibly carrying the virus with them as Dashain gift or to keep their family members safe from the virus," Bhusal said. Passengers themselves need to be more aware to take care of their personal health and safety to help minimise the transmission of the virus, added CDO Dahal. Precautions and alertness from all concerned is equally important if they want to control virus transmission from being a real pandemic, Dahal suggested. Chakra Bahadur Budha, Joint Secretary and Spokesperson at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MohA), said the travel guideline and the decision on important safety measures announced by three CDOs of the Kathmandu Valley on September 16 was still in effect, and needed to be strictly followed, until the government took any emergency decision in the middle of the festival season. Every year around 2.5 million people leave Kathmandu Valley for their hometown during the Dashain festival but that may change this year due to the pandemic. Yogendra Karmacharya, Chairman of the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE), said that due to the COVID-19 no decision had been made regarding advance ticket booking. “It seems that many people even do not want to leave the Valley for Dashain this year,” said Karmacharya. Last year, approximately 2 million people had left the Valley for Dashain, he claimed. As educational institutions are closed and the majority of the people are still in their hometowns after the lockdown was imposed on March 24 this year, the movement of people seems to be much less, he said.