Life can be so sweet when you have it, but as you live it from day-to-day, we humans don't seem to realise its value till something like this deadly virus hits you. Having survived the virus once, I will never take chances again and will follow all COVID-19 protocols

As early as 2018, one would imagine it was 'strawberry fields forever'' for Nepal's tourism sector, a profession held close to my heart since 2005. However, this wasn't to be as the year 2019 disastrously loomed around the corner. By January 2020, the UNO declared the planet was at the threshold of a global pandemic due to COVID-19.

It was soon realised that nof government would be able to eradicate the disease in 2020. COVID-19 was here to stay until a cure or a vaccine was found.

Nonetheless, the world knew a vaccine was at least a year away. It was estimated to be in April 2021. Till then, deaths due to COV- ID-19 would rise to frightening levels throughout the world.

It soon dawned on most people the world over that there was no going back to normal for at least a year or even more. Economies globally soon fell to their knees...and Nepal's already weak economy began to wobble. And, even worse, the country's biggest bread winning sector – tourism – began to bleed mortally, and Nepal soon began its rolling lockdowns from March 19, 2020.

In 2021, our rolling lockdown began again in April.

Today, many countries are going through a confusing paradox: Do we continue the lockdowns for a long time and wipe out our economies or let a few 100 million die and keep the economies going? Nepal's economy, which depends much on the tourism sector to fill its foreign exchange coffers, faces a long-term dire situation that is likely to take a long time to heal.

Compounding this are successive governments soaked in corruption, which has even poisoned the health sector in these critical times of a raging pandemic. Even worse is the political instability that has created havoc in the country for the last two decades. Governments change every 2-3 years without ever completing a full elected term. Added to this is the impact of high unemployment due to COVID-19 –grassroots research has shown that 3 of 5 employees had lost their jobs due to COVID-19 in Nepal by mid-2020.

Tourism shows the highest number of people without work due to this pandemic.

Many of the unemployed have returned to their villages, some walking more than 100 kilometres to reach their villages in order to escape starvation and unimaginable misery.

In the midst of all this untold crisis, politicians ruling the country are seen tussling for power, ignoring a dangerous pandemic and unable to offer bailout solutions for millions among the masses experiencing sufferings of a magnitude never experienced before. Ironically, it was these same citizens that voted many of these corrupt politicians to the seats of power they occupy today.

The World Bank has already warned that "the pandemic will hit hard low-income people, especially informal workers in the tourism, retail trade, and transport sector who have limited or no access to healthcare or social safety options".

The rich and upper middle class strata of Nepali society have more economic and physical resources, translating to more social options, at their disposal.

"Pandemics like these present a clearer picture of the inequalities that are widespread in our society today".

The luxury of working from home, attending online classes and ordering groceries for home delivery is only available to the privileged few.

A new report issued by the UN World Tourism Organisation warns that an uneven rollout of vaccines around the world means that it is unlikely tourism will bounce back to its pre-pandemic levels within a year or two. It's a very bumpy road to recovery for Nepal's tourism sector in the months ahead.

Adding to this chaotic disorganisation in the tourism industry is a nagging, painful feeling that there are too many travel, trekking and rafting agencies chasing too few tourists. As a result, we see poorer earnings coming from tourism, which has now become a virtual rat's race.

Among the thousands affected by the coronavirus in Nepal, unfortunately, I was one among the many.

This is a harrowing experience I shall never forget in a hurry. It was on the 24th of September 2020, when I was diagnosed at the teaching hospital with lungs totally clouded in an x-ray done at the hospital. After some hectic phone calls, I was soon transported to Green City Hospital where I was diagnosed with COV- ID-19 and pneumonia.

Since ventilators weren't available there, political influence was used to get me admission into Hams Hospital. Here too, influential connections were required for me to gain access to a ventilator for three weeks, which was desperately required to save my life. Minor surgeries were also needed to clean out my clouded lungs from the corona.

Unconscious and unaware what was happening to me, I finally gained consciousness in a month after surviving on the wings of a prayer that could have gone either way between life-death-and life again.

Life can be so sweet when you have it, but as you live it from day-to-day, we humans don't seem to realise its value till something like this deadly virus hits you.

Now with two Chinese vaccines in my body, will it prevent the corona from entering my body again? Having survived the virus once, I will never take chances again and will continue to follow all COV- ID-19 protocols to avoid the virus from getting into my body.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump once said in a tweet: 'Hope the cure is not worse than the disease'.

There is much merit in this tweet that appeals to my senses. We are still seeing people getting affected by this deadly virus even after being vaccinated. All I want to do now is stay safe and hunker down, keeping my faith in God and protecting my body at all cost from COVID-19.

I will do whatever I can to help our neighbours and friends, support our community and find practical solutions to enable our tourism industry to be successful again by stopping the spread of the virus through strong self-consciousness in protecting ourselves and society.

Nepal is Managing Director at Encounters

A version of this article appears in the print on September 28 2021, of The Himalayan Times.