With the intention of alleviating the economic crisis brought on by Covid-19, a joint-meeting of Kathmandu Valley’s Chief District Officers (CDOs) decided on Wednesday to ease restrictions, allowing limited vehicles to ply on the road with a conditional reopening of markets and private offices.
The decision was made public through a notice issued by the CDOs which included a 19-point list of guidelines for the public to maintain until September 16, and which builds on the three week long prohibitory order that is set to expire Wednesday midnight. As per the notice, public vehicles with over 16 seats will be allowed to resume the service. Taxi and motorcycle riders can use their vehicles by ensuring safety measures that include but are not limited to disinfection, use of masks and gloves, and sanitisation. While doing so, the odd-even rule for vehicles has been reinforced. Under the odd-even rule, private vehicles with odd number plates will be allowed to ply on the road on odd days and those with even number plates on even days based on the Nepali BS calendar.
Shops and offices will similarly be allowed to resume services but operators will have to fully ensure safety protocols while doing so. Private markets will only be allowed to open on fixed days. For example, shopping malls, fancy stores, shoe and cosmetics shops will be allowed to open on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Meanwhile, hotels and restaurants can resume takeaway services during a fixed timeframe, but in-person services will continue to be on pause. Crowded places like schools, colleges, public gatherings, and religious functions will continue to be banned in view of the coronavirus crisis.
The CDOs, authorised by the Cabinet to impose lockdowns and curfews, have not explained to the public the exact reasons for issuing and extending the prohibitory orders. They have also not stated whether the objectives of the prohibitory orders were achieved. Officials could not be reached for comments despite several attempts made by The Record.
The dramatic surge in the number of Covid cases in the valley does not signal the effectiveness of the second series of lockdowns. During the first week of lockdown, the daily detection rate of Covid cases in Kathmandu Valley was around 200. It increased by 100 the following week. By the third week, this rate had doubled. On Wednesday, Kathmandu Valley recorded 464 new cases in a span of 24 hours. Of them, 394 of the new infections were detected in Kathmandu district, 36 in Bhaktapur and 34 in Lalitpur. The death rate has also increased significantly in the capital, which has over 60 percent of the nation’s hospitals. Over 44 people died in the valley in the past three weeks.
The public seems to have realised that the district administrators simply issued edicts for lockdown, without employing effective measures to truly contain the virus. During this time, all local bodies have been scrambling to set up quarantine and isolation centres. Each municipality has at least two contact tracing teams, while the metropolitans have set up 10 teams, comprising technicians and health workers, to trace people who come in contact with the infected. In a baffling turn of events, the government has scaled down real time polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR) tests to show a reduction in the number of cases even as public health experts have been emphasising the need for more testing, isolation, tracing and treatment.
Apart from Kathmandu Valley, Covid cases are on the rise elsewhere in the country. On Wednesday, 1,081 new cases were detected across the country, taking the total number of cases to 49,219 while the death toll reached 312.
After four months of full lockdown, the Nepal government first lifted restrictions on July 22. But Covid cases continued to increase rapidly and it was compelled to reinforce prohibitory orders in several districts including Kathmandu, the capital city.
Due to the prohibitory orders, medium and long distance passenger bus services, schools, domestic and international flights are still shut, as are local markets and industries. The tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs due to the economic meltdown caused by the pandemic are having to wait longer to even start looking for new employment opportunities.