This story by Mahesh Shrestha originally appeared on Global Voices on March 10, 2020.
As fears about COVID-19 continue to grip the world, many countries have taken preventative measures by cancelling events and gatherings. Nepal is the latest country to issue an appeal not to organize any large meetings, conferences, festivals, and any other events in view of the possible risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
In response, organizers from three major events, from the film industry to sports, have agreed to postpone or cancel their long-awaited programmes.
The first case of COVID-19 was detected in a Nepali student returning from China on 23 January but he was discharged after his condition improved. According to the Ministry of Health and Population, as of 6 March, 437 samples from patients were tested and 436 came out negative with the one positive case having already recovered from the virus. But as per 8 March, 441 samples were tested but all tested negative.
While Nepal’s infection numbers are still relatively low, the impact of the global COVID-19 outbreak is projected to have very serious effects on the economy. According to an ADB analysis, the outbreak will hit almost every sector of the Nepali economy, with many fearing that the country’s GDP might shrink by 0.04-0.13 per cent.
International programmes at a standstill
The 8th Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival (NHRIFF), which was scheduled to kick off on 4 March 2020, is one of the international events that has decided to honour the Nepali government’s appeal.
Every year, Human Rights Film Center (HRFC), brings together human rights filmmakers and human rights activists from around the world to screen their films and debate human rights issues. This year, 84 films from 32 countries were selected to be screened at the festival. Likewise, 22 filmmakers from 17 countries were travelling to Nepal to participate in the festival. While the preparations and publicity of the festival were ongoing, the Center announced its postponement on 2 March until further notice.
In a press statement, Executive Director of Human Rights Film Center and Nepal Human Rights International Film Festival Director Pandav Khatri said: “HRFC will declare next date of the Festival once the situation is under control. The same films already selected for the festival will be screened on the next date too. HRFC apologizes for the inconvenience caused on the national and international filmmakers, the participants and audiences, supporters, sponsors and others due to this cancellation of the festival.”