Ease the lockdownThe government should now improvise to get the economy running before people begin pouring out onto the streets.
The Nepal government's announcement, on Saturday, May 30, to extend the nationwide lockdown until June 14 to contain the coronavirus pandemic has rightly raised concerns about its modus operandi. There's no questioning its initial intention when it imposed the lockdown on March 24 right after the second case of coronavirus infection was detected. But good intentions must be accompanied by solid action, which is clearly elusive to date.
Although the lockdown was supposed to be just a means to buy us time to prepare a defence mechanism against the pandemic, the past 70 days have been marked by missed opportunities as is evident in the surge in new infections, with over 1,500 active cases as of today. The government has not even begun aggressive contact tracing and is increasingly losing its ground as thousands of Nepalis enter the country from India without so much as getting rapid diagnostic tests done. We’re staring at a staggering rise in the number of infections, given we aren't yet anywhere close to the peak yet.
Had it been the panacea to the pandemic, the lockdown could have been extended on end. But it is evidently not, and its cost seems to trump its benefits. Patients with chronic as well as emergency ailments have been seriously hit, with a 200 percent spike in the number of pregnancy deaths during the lockdown period. As the government fails to come up with a solid contingency plan, those at the lower rung of the society have lost opportunities to earn a livelihood even as they depend on the benevolence of others for as basic a necessity as food. The fulfilment of gastronomical necessity is not all that they need, and they need to get back to work immediately.
As the pandemic shows no sign of ebbing on its own—not anytime soon at least—and as the government continues to wash its hands of the financial and social burdens on the people, the fear of the people coming out on the streets rather than wait endlessly at home is imminent. That’ll lead to more chaos than the government can handle.
The government must, therefore, become a little more imaginative in its response to the pandemic and tackle it head-on rather than run away from it just by flashing the magic wand of indefinite lockdown. As of now, it has shown no promise of a change in its approach when this new iteration of a poorly imagined lockdown ends on June 14. It must immediately begin a concerted effort, taking on board the private sector and all other stakeholders, towards helping people to get back to economic and other activities with a new set of safety guidelines firmly in place before it is too late.