Nepal ends COVID-19 lockdown

The Nepal government has decided to officially end the COVID-19 lockdown it announced on 24 March from midnight Tuesday.

A Cabinet meeting on Tuesday took the decision, but the fine print of the announcement said that only limited businesses and services would be allowed for the time being. 

The move comes even as the country registered 150 new positive cases on Tuesday out of the nearly 4,000 PCR tests. Of these, nine new coronavirus positive cases were detected in in Kathmandu Valley, putting the total confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide at nearly 18,000.

The lockdown was clamped four months ago after the second case was detected in a passenger who had flown in from Paris.

Nepal has lifted the lockdown even as India has also re-imposed strict restriction on movement in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two states bordering Nepal where there has been a surge in cases after they partially lifted the lockdown and allowed public transport.

Announcing the decision, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada said that even open businesses and services would need to strictly follow protocols for safe distance and masks.

“The government has determined that since the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is going down, and public is aware of precautions that need to be taken, we can start opening the lockdown,” Khatiwada told the press. "But if the infection rate goes up again, the lockdown could be re-imposed."

On Monday, the government announced that domestic and international flights with limited destinations frequencies would be allowed to operate regular services from 17 August, while following its guidelines for safe travel. All passengers will be required to carry coronavirus negative certificates, and take health precautions during flights.

The government has already allowed local public transport to operate in Kathmandu and other urban area,s but only carrying half the passengers. Operators are also allowed to charge double the fares. Long distance buses will also be allowed to operate from 17 August.

From Wednesday, the odd-even number plate restrictions will be removed. Sports events and training will also be opened.

However, Nepal’s land borders with India and China will remain closed till 16 August, except for cargo trucks and for people who have to travel for medical and other emergencies. 

While schools will still be closed, educational institutions will be allowed to take in new admissions from 17 August. The government had already allowed schools to conduct online classes, but has not said anything about whether schools can charge fees or not. Private schools have stopped online classes in protest against the government directive stopping them to charge fees.

The government has also allowed restaurants and hotels to open from 30 July, but there are still restrictions on large parties and receptions. Trekking and mountaineering expeditions will now also be allowed to operate. 

The facilities still not allowed to open are schools, trade exhibitions, banquet halls, gyms, religious sites and cultural festivals.

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