EDITORIAL: Avoid large gatherings

After weeks of dithering, the government has imposed a partial lockdown in the urban areas of the country till May 14, which could be a prelude to a full lockdown should the surge in coronavirus cases show no signs of abating. A Cabinet meeting on Monday decided to close down all educational institutions and also place restrictions on gatherings of more than 25 people at a time after a new variant of the coronavirus was detected in the urban centres of the country, and many school children, quite unlike in the first wave, were found infected with it.

The partial lockdown comes in the wake of Nepal’s increasing COVID-19 infections, with 1,227 new cases recorded on Monday, with half of them in the Kathmandu Valley. And they represent only those who have come forward to undergo a test after showing certain symptoms. Last year this time, the government had locked down the country for months on end, causing untold hardships to the people, especially daily wage earners. But it did manage to keep the infections very low. How effective the partial lockdown will be in curbing new infections is hard to say as most people seem to be oblivious to the second wave of the coronavirus caused by the new variant of the virus.

Until the lockdown is lifted, schools and colleges have been asked to adopt alternative teaching methods, namely, virtual classes. Restrictions on large gatherings – whether religious, social or others– come at a time when the wedding season is just about to start. And many more jatras are scheduled for this month in the valley, which at normal times always attract large crowds. The partial lockdown has affected certain sectors more than others.

For the time being, the entertainment sector – cinema halls, dance bars, discotheques, party venues, and swimming pools – are to remain closed, although restaurants will be allowed to open till 8 in the evening. Shopping malls can also operate provided they do not entertain large crowds of customers at a time. Public vehicles, which are always jam-packed, have been told to carry passengers only half their capacity.

A complete lockdown may not be necessary if the government strictly implements the new rule on gatherings and the people follow the health protocols prescribed by the government. While observing the jatras in recent days, people seemed to have thrown caution to the wind even though the organisers had promised the health protocols would be mandatorily followed. Apart from the restrictions at home, there is a need to effectively regulate the porous border, through which thousands of Nepalis are entering the country daily after losing their jobs in India. Every time there is an outbreak of COVID cases in India, it has telling impact on Nepal. We will be seeing an even greater influx in the coming days as India has imposed lockdown in Maharashtra and New Delhi, where a large number of Nepalis are concentrated. There are lessons to learn from these economically painful lockdowns in India, which had to re-impose them after hospitals ran out of beds to treat the infected. So let us all be cautious and follow the three golden rules – wear a mask, wash your hands regularly and maintain physical distancing.

Road upgradation

With the onset of the monsoon season, rural roads, as well as different stretches of the major highways, have developed cracks and potholes, giving a hard time to motorists and locals alike.

For instance, Siddhicharan Highway, built by the Nepali Army 26 years ago, has been damaged at several places. And, as the road condition deteriorates, more accidents have taken place, causing loss of lives. As per the government statistics, in the last four decades, a total of 15,308 km roads have been constructed in Nepal. Out of these, 4,522 km are blacktopped, 3,646 km graveled, and 7,141 km roads are dirt roads.

The federal government has said it will indicate the limit and scope of work to be done from the central level to support the provincial and local governments for the upgradation of rural roads. The local level must be made to carry out road maintenance by strengthening the decentralised governance system and maximising the use of local resources. The construction, operation and maintenance of agricultural roads and those with low traffic at the local level should be carried out under the local development programmes.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 21, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.

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