As the pandemic continues, many people have asked about Nepal—specifically, what’s happening in the country and how Nepali Tea Traders is responding. Here’s the latest on our homeland and our community.
In March, Nepal announced a nationwide lockdown to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. During the lockdown, services were limited. Some stores selling essential food and pharmaceuticals were open, but most businesses, restaurants, and public transportation were closed. People were (and some still are) ordered to stay at home.
The nationwide lockdown was lifted in July; however, the government authorized local authorities to impose lockdowns if needed (depending on the COVID-19 count within their jurisdictions).
As for travel, borders are officially closed, and tourists are not allowed to enter. Limited commercial flights started in September, with 60 scheduled international flights to be operated by foreign and domestic carriers.
To-date, Nepal has 42,877 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus and 257 deaths. There’s been no government support or subsidies for any industry.
When India announced its lockdown, thousands of Nepali citizens/workers living in India gathered at the India-Nepal border. Protesters were heard shouting, “Nepali Nagrik lai firta leyu” –Nepal, take your citizens back—but by then, borders had been closed and migrant workers were stuck at the border.
In May, Nepali Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali told a parliamentary committee that 211,000 Nepalis needed to be rescued and repatriated immediately, and that thousands more should be brought back home to Nepal at the next opportunity.
To add to growing India-Nepal tensions, India’s defense minister publicly inaugurated an 80-kilometer-long road in the Himalayas. The Nepali government immediately protested, contending that the road crosses Nepali territory and was built without diplomatic consultation. India has agreed to diplomatic dialogue, but only after the COVID-19 crisis ends.
Because much of Nepal is on lockdown, religious festivals are strictly prohibited. Many Nepalese have complied with these ordinances, but some took to the streets in Lalitpur. A group of devotees sought to keep an annual tradition alive by pulling a 5-story-high statue of the deity Rato Machindranath across the city. Police officers blocked the protesters and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Our farmers were preparing for the first flush of 2020 when the pandemic started. Everything came to a halt, including the tea gardens. Economic uncertainty paired with peaks in Coronavirus cases further contributed to delayed production. Only after several weeks did factories reopen—with a caveat that factories would be singularly responsible for any Coronavirus outbreaks.
Thankfully, Ilam remains relatively unaffected. Despite a small outbreak caused by visiting engineers from Kathmandu, the region is naturally set up for social distancing. Houses are scattered in the villages and difficult road conditions make for infrequent human contact.
Nepali Tea Traders chose to reboot with a “skeletal staff.” We kept the farmers’ plight at the heart of our solution and even managed to make some first and second flush teas. We’re proud to say we’re among the few factories that paid 100% of green leaves purchased from farmers.
“We are not allowing anyone inside the factory and are following the two-person per manufacturing protocol,” said our Nepali colleague Bushan Subba. “Since there could be crowding during leaf sales and payment days, we have decided to contact individual farmers for payment, and leaves are brought in the factory on an individual basis. Only one person is allowed when we receive the leaves.”
Now that flights are departing Nepal, teas from our first and second flush will get globally distributed.
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