Early in February 2020 I left Kathmandu for a five week work trip to Europe at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had registered less than 30,000 cases worldwide. It was becoming more of a news item, but in Europe there were only a handful of cases, and it seemed at the time that there was little to be concerned about.
Before I left, I would take my daily walk around Boudhanath Stupa, a haven for thousands of visitors a day from around the world, including many Chinese rubbing shoulders with locals doing their circumambulations, and of course me. On the 6 February, I took the first of 10 flights, transiting through seven international airports, that would eventually bring me back to Nepal on 12 March, just two days before Nepal stopped issuing visas on arrival to visitors.
In those five weeks as the virus started to spread around the EU, I spent time in Finland, Istanbul, Latvia, Denmark, Ireland and the UK coming into contact with thousands of people in airports, planes, and shops. It never occurred to me that I was coming in close contact with thousands of people, it was the norm. I was, as most people were in those days, quite unaware of the risk I was facing.
Journey to the mountain of the spirit, Claire Burkert
By the time I arrived in Nepal, worldwide cases had jumped to 130,000 and at Tribhuvan International Airport I was stunned to see a virtually empty arrival hall with just one luggage belt operating. The impact of COVID-19 was clearly being felt. I was happy to be back, but had a nagging feeling that Nepal would be facing more tough times ahead. Having read more about the asymptomatic transmission of the disease, I self-quarantined in my apartment in Boudha, except for brief visits to a local baby clothing project near where I live.