Lockdown eased in Kathmandu

Signs for seven provinces at Kathmandu airport. All photos: BIKRAM RAI

The jumbled up signs for seven provinces at Kathmandu airport is symbolic of the shambles things in Nepal are in. Nearly half-a-year of lockdown later, there are still 150,000 Nepali workers overseas waiting to return. Some of those who came back from India have now started going back because they could not find jobs.

Although limited scheduled flights have started, returning Nepalis still have to inexplicably wait for up to 7 hours at holding centres even if they have PCR negative reports. Hygiene precautions at the airport are rudimentary.

As public pressure builds up, the government on Wednesday loosened up on some of the restrictions even though Kathmandu Valley is still recording a surge in cases. On Thursday there were new 572 coronavirus cases in the Valley, out of 1,246 for the rest of the country. Five more fatalities were recorded nationwide, three of them in Kathmandu Valley.

After three weeks of restrictions, instead of bringing down the cases in Kathmandu Valley saw an increase – meaning the virus is spreading within families and communities. But economic desperation had increased public pressure to relax some of the rules.

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The government’s strategy seems to be to loosen up some more after 17 September, allow long-distance buses and domestic airlines to resume to allow people to go to their districts for the festival season. And if there is another spike, they may lock down the Valley again over Dasain, which this year is 23-28 October. If needed, officials have hinted they can then deploy the military at checkpoints so the Valley is isolated from the rest of the country.

The new rules that went into effect on Thursday are so complicated that even police enforcing them are confused about what is allowed on which days.

From Thursday, provision shops were allowed to be open from 5-11AM, and 5-7PM. Department stores, shopping malls and other shops can open Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Garment stores, furniture shops, and garages are open on other days of the week, while restaurants can provide takeaways from 12-7pm. Taxis and motorcycles are back on the roads. Bigger capacity buses are allowed, but there were few on the road Thursday because many preferred not to get on them.

Confusion persists about lockdown rules, Alisha Sijapati

Detailed do’s and don’ts have also been issued, but somewhat ambiguously, the directive also states that ‘services similar to the above’ will also be allowed. Experts have also questioned how wise it is to limit opening time for shops because it could lead to overcrowding.

Read also: 24 March - 24 August, Alisha Sijapati

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