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Cases of coronavirus continue to surge in Kathmandu Valley despite continuous prohibitory orders in the capital. 

On Thursday, Kathmandu Valley–which includes Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur–saw 445 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus.  Of the cases detected in the past 24 hours, 357 were in Kathmandu, 46 in Bhaktapur, and 42 in Lalitpur. 

The Valley has been under prohibitory orders since the last two weeks. But even as people continue to live through a second lockdown, the rate of new corona infections hasn’t decreased inside the Valley, and outside. Instead, people of all stripes–from high-profile politicians, elected people’s representatives, and top bureaucrats to frontliners such as doctors, nurses, police, ambulance drivers, and volunteers–have tested positive for the virus.  The virus knows no social boundaries, so, not surprisingly, even inmates have started testing positive for the deadly virus. 

According to the Ministry of Health and Populations (MoHP), the country on Thursday saw 1,228 new cases–the highest spike in a single day so far. These Covid-19 positive cases were part of the 13,413 people across the country the government conducted RT-PCR tests on.  

With this, the total number of corona cases in the country has reached 42,877. Of that total, 24,207 have returned home after recovering from the disease, whereas 18,413 corona patients are still receiving treatment. As per the Health Ministry’s recent briefing, across the country, 141 patients are receiving treatment in ICUs, and 17 are on ventilators. 

Health Ministry officials have expressed concern about the growing number of coronavirus cases. According to them, the virus has already spread at the community level in 12 hotspots in Nepal, including Kathmandu Valley. To contain the further spread of the virus, the MoHP has pledged that it will conduct aggressive contact tracing in Kathmandu and across the country, according to Health Ministry Spokesperson Dr Jageshwor Gautam.

The death rate from the virus isn’t dipping, either. Six people died over the last 24 hours, taking the country’s total Covid-19 death toll to 257. 

Out of 77 districts, only six districts–Solukhumbu, Taplejung, Mustang, Dolpa, Mugu, and Humla–remain free of corona. And some districts–like Morang, Sunsari, Dhanusha, Parsa, Bara, Mahottari,Rautahat, Sarlahi, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Chitwan, and Rupandehi–have more than 500 active corona patients. 

The virus has forced the government to prohibit outdoor activities nationwide. More than half of the country’s 77 districts are under lockdown or prohibitory orders. These measures seem to be disproportionately impacting daily wage earners and small and medium entrepreneurs. And due to the virus, all sectors contributing to the national treasury–businessmen in all sectors, tourism operators, the foreign employment sector, and industries–have been badly hit. Further, schools, colleges, industries, and markets have remained largely closed since the country enforced the first lockdown on March 22. 

The four-month lockdown was lifted in the last week of June. But the case numbers started spiking rapidly after vehicular and human movement was allowed. Since then, the federal government has entrusted the District Administration Offices to enforce prohibitory orders in areas where more than 500 cases of coronavirus have been recorded and lockdowns in districts with more than 200 active virus cases.

But the lockdowns and prohibitory orders have been rubbing some of the Valley’s locals the wrong way–especially because they view the government’s orders as merely a patchwork response, almost made up on the fly. Some have been questioning whether government officials are using the crisis to line their own pockets, even as the average Nepali’s livelihood is put on hold. And many are tiring of how the government–without performing the necessary protocols, such as contact tracing–continues to declare or extend lockdowns and shutdowns that don’t seem to be achieving much. 

Photo credit: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi

All these issues came to boil on Thursday in Pulchowk, Lalitpur, when local youths attempted to hold the procession of Machhindranath, the rain god. The festival is usually held in April, when the procession wends its way through Lalitpur’s major thoroughfares, before ending at Pulchowk, where the president displays to the public a jewel-studded vest believed to belong to a Newar farmer. Early this year, owing to the pandemic, Lalitpur’s Guthi Sansthan and Jyapu Samaj, in consultation with the local administration, had decided to postpone the celebration. The festival was postponed two more times, as the pandemic continued to rage.

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But on Thursday, Lalitpur’s local youths, in defiance of the latest prohibitory orders, decided to pull the chariot, because the government has not been listening to their requests to allow them to conduct the procession with the requisite protocols in place. The festival organisers had even made a written request to President Bidhya Devi Bhandari to allow them to organize the procession as early as possible as time was running out. In the letter, they had proposed that given the corona crisis, the procession could proceed during a lockdown, for example, or with the instituting of a short, temporary curfew.

But the government has disregarded all these requests. That’s why some Lalitpur youths decided to get together on Thursday and force the issue–by getting on with the festival. But when the youths tried to pull the chariot, the police tried to prevent their progress. The youths then began pelting the police with stones, and the police responded with tear gas and water cannons. 

Photo credit: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi

For the people of Lalitpur, Machindranath–or Bung Dyah–is not just a rain god but also a god who needs to be appeased for the sake of the country’s overall health.

“No virus should stop the procession,” said Kapil Bajracharya, Machhindranath’s chief priest. 

“We have to take the chariot to Bungamati by mid-October or else the country will be beset by bad luck.”  

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