Nepal bans big public gatherings, closes schools as COVID cases spike

PRAKASH MATHEMA/ AFP

Nepal banned large public gatherings and closed schools for nearly three weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases.

The Himalayan nation reported 1,357 new cases on Monday, the biggest single-day jump since September last year, taking its total to 833,946 since the pandemic began.

Its death toll from the coronavirus is 11,606.

Home Ministry spokesman Pradip Kumar Koirala said public gatherings like political rallies and religious functions involving more than 25 people had been prohibited.

“Entry to hotels, restaurants, cinema halls and public offices as well as parks from January 21 will be given to those providing proof of being vaccinated against the coronavirus,” Koirala told Reuters.

Earlier the government ordered schools to close for almost three weeks until January 29.

Education Ministry spokesman Deepak Sharma said a campaign to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17 at their schools would go ahead.

"Schools must notify students about the time and date when they need to go to schools and receive the shots,” Sharma said.

Authorities hope the closure of schools will help break chains of infection amid fears about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the virus.

Last week, the government asked hospitals to prepare for increased numbers of patients as COVID-19 cases could increase sharply.

Hospitals have been ordered to maintain adequate supplies of oxygen and keep staff at the ready. Nepal has reported 27 cases of infections with the Omicron but no deaths from it.

Nepal has provided two shots of COVID-19 vaccines to 37 per cent of its population of 30 million since an inoculation drive began a year ago.

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