An indefinite lockdown is not the solution, and the restrictions will create massive unemployment, and lead to a spread of poverty and hunger, which could culminate in civil unrest.
Almost 90% of businesses in Nepal are closed, and the current lack of loan servicing will create a banking crisis since 50% of these borrowings are through personal deposits that require monthly servicing. Furthermore, there are more than a million Nepalis waiting to return home from overseas. The country’s balance of payments deficit will be impacted by a drop in remittances.
Public health experts must come up with a timeline on easing the lockdown so that the economy can begin to get back on track. We delayed testing in the first month of the lockdown because of the lack of kits. In the past two weeks, we have seen a surge of cases as testing increased among migrant workers and those they came in contact with.
Once more Nepalis return from abroad, there may be many new cases.
The Kathmandu Airlift, Editorial
We must develop contagion prevention protocols for all walks of life. Wearing masks, hand washing and sanitising, and physical distancing must be an established part of daily activity. Everyone must be vigilant, and self-quarantine or get tested immediately if symptoms develop, being alert about the health of family, friends, and colleagues at the workplace.
We also now begin to analyse the available data after testing reaches a critical point and infer permissible risks in order to open up the economy. This analysis could be achieved by knowing the rate of tests conducted, the distribution of asymptomatic and critical cases, and, most importantly, the death rate due to COVID-19.
Kathmandu valley accounts for 30% of the recreational tourist movement to Chitwan and Pokhara, and we must prepare for the movement of Nepali visitors to these two destinations once the lockdown is eased.
There will have to be well thought out COVID-19 Prevention Protocols for the tourism and aviation industry which can be closely monitored and traced. There have to be enough test kits and isolation facilities as well as management guidelines in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
Once we create the confidence that Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan are safe destinations with the movement of internal tourists, we can re-market them for international visitors, particularly from India and China. Our advantage is direct connections to the two giant markets at our doorstep.
Unlocking the economy post lockdown, Sanjib Subba
Buddha Air has completed a comprehensive COVID-19 Prevention Protocol and all staff are being trained to follow it minutely. Through our 100% subsidiary Buddha Holidays, we are working with hotels in Pokhara and Chitwan to finalise and implement their Prevention Protocols as well. We will monitor these carefully to assure safety, and have started marketing these holiday packages in Kathmandu at very reasonable rates. They will be ready for sale and use as soon as the government lifts the lockdown.
We need to move fast for early bird advantage. Southeast Asian countries have already started opening bookings from August. If we move to cater to domestic tourists, we can start marketing in China and India for the autumn season.
There may be a silver lining in the current crisis because restrictions in global travel could mean outbound tourists in our region will want to travel nearer to home countries. If we act early, we might be able to attract more tourists from just India and China than what Visit Nepal 2020 envisioned.
Survive 2020, revive 2021, thrive 2022, Alisha Sijapati
Similar to other domestic airlines, Buddha Air was in full swing till the morning of 23 March, and all flights were grounded the next day. Since then we are at zero revenue for two months and counting. Airlines operate on continuous cash flow which is the reason most of us are facing extreme hardships.
Buddha Air is a live entity for us, which we will nurture and protect so that all those who work for it are taken care of. The paramount philosophy is the sense of ownership of each and every employee towards the company. Therefore, we will not lay off a single employee but try to confront the crisis collectively.
Buddha Air is not looking for any grant or subsidy from this government. We can keep going till September. However, we do expect the government to reduce the price of Air Transport Fuel (ATF) to be closer to the global price. In India the ATF price is NPR 36 per litre in Kolkata, but it is NPR 75 in Nepal. China provides a 50% subsidy on ATF price for domestic aviation, and the sector has rebounded to +2% year-on-year from 2019.
We are confident that things will start returning to a new normal by October 2020 and we can weather this storm that has hit the global aviation sector. Our strategy is to provide cheaper fares for Nepali passengers so that the middle class can afford to fly. This will also be much safer than traveling many hours by surface transport, and it will sustain domestic aviation without the government having to spend money on its rescue.
Birendra B Basnet is Managing Director of Buddha Air.