As the season of festivities enthuses Nepalis, the government has urged all and sundry to avoid gathering in or around religious sites and to celebrate the festivals as a formality and abide by social distancing norms.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Chief District Officers of all the 77 districts have been directed to ask the authorities to control gatherings at religious sites. The ministry's direction comes after the country witnessed large number of gatherings today across major religious sites on the occasion of the Hindu sacred festival Janai Purnima.

Thousands of Hindu devotees thronged the Pashupati area today. The religious site had not seen such a huge crowd of people in nearly two years ever since cases of COVID-19 started surging in the country. The government has also expressed grave concern that prominent festivals might serve as super spreaders for the resurgence of the third wave of coronavirus in the country.

Tomorrow, Newari people residing in Kathmandu valley and other cities will celebrate the iconic Gai Jatra festival in remembrance of deceased family members in the last one year. The partial lockdown inside Kathmandu valley is still on and it does not allow people to gather around religious sites but only allows formal offerings at temples.

Joint Secretary at the MoHA Phanindra Mani Pokharel told THT that the government was serious about not letting religious ceremonies become one of the main causes of the spread of COVID-19. "As we are no longer in the mood to impose blanket lockdown, we are discussing ways to impose a smart lockdown, which will be based on scientific methods," Pokharel said.

Earlier, the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre had floated a proposal to categorise the COVID-19 affected areas into four different coloured groups so as to tackle the crisis situations strategically. As per the new proposal, the districts or areas with higher number of COVID-19 infection will now be categorised as red, ember, yellow and green zones, depending on the status of COVID-19 cases - red for the most affected and vulnerable zones and green for the safe zones.

The affected zones will be categorised on the basis of new COVID cases, mortality rate, availability of health facilities, including ventilators, number of people inoculated, and the like. Meanwhile, Nepal Police have been vigilant over the compliance with prohibitory orders in the country.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 23 2021, of The Himalayan Times.