Empty streets and palpable fear as Nepal goes into lockdownApart from occasional activity in the mornings and evenings, Kathmandu Valley streets remained empty throughout the day as the country went into isolation.
In Kathmandu Valley, the first day of the weeklong nation-wide lockdown was bright and sunny, with birds chirping in the balmy spring weather. The streets, however, were eerily empty, with no traffic and no pedestrians. The only vehicles were the occasional ambulance, water tankers and security vehicles.
From department stores, restaurants and shopping complexes to grocery stores and tea shops, all remained closed as the government-mandated nationwide lockdown, announced on Monday, came into effect.
Although the government had asked everyone to remain indoors, both the curious and the panicked were out on the streets in the early morning in various parts of the city, accompanied occasionally by the nonchalant. Many neighbourhood shops had opened in the early morning, allowing residents to get some last-minute shopping done. But once the day set in, most remained indoors or inside their compounds, basking in the sun, watching television and trawling social media.
“My parents allowed me to come here to play cricket with my brother, as there were no people around here,” said 12-year-old Raju Gautam, who was found playing cricket with a few of his friends in a Kupondole alley.
Those on the streets were stopped by security officials and asked to go home unless they had prior permission or a medical issue. No one was fined, the police said.
Although the government had stated that stores selling essential items would remain open, none was open throughout the day, but a few opened in the evening.
Some shopkeepers said that they closed their shops fearing the transmission of Covid-19 while others said they just didn't have enough goods to sell.
“Right after the government announced the lockdown, there was a horde of people shopping. They emptied our shop on Monday and now we don't have salt, edible oil, beaten rice or vegetables,” said Mathura Khanal, a retail shop owner in Dhobichaur.
“As it was a total lockdown, we could not go to Kalimati to get green vegetables.”
The government announced a complete lockdown on Monday, following a partial lockdown on Sunday, after the identification of a second case of Covid-19 in the country. The lockdown has been announced until March 31 but could be extended given how things progress.
Himal Subedi, a retail shop owner in Bakhundole, had only opened one door of his shop but he too was running low on rice, egg, edible oil and water. He had to send half a dozen people away without water, he said.
“Despite the coronavirus, I have half opened my shop as I have to pay rent. If I open up fully, the virus could get inside,” said Subedi. “During the earthquakes [of 2015], you could at least go to a safer place or run out into the open. There’s no escape from the coronavirus.”
The emptiness in the Valley might also have to do with the fact that a large number of people have deserted the city for their hometowns. According to the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, in four days until Sunday, 465,972 people left the Kathmandu valley. The government had enforced a restriction on all long-haul movement, before the lockdown was announced.
According to Senior Superintendent and Chief of the division Bhim Prasad Dhakal, only those with passes from the District Administration Office were allowed on the roads.
“Vehicular movement came to a halt on Tuesday. Traffic police were mobilised round the clock to keep people inside. We’ve blocked all kinds of public movement, except for emergencies,” said Dhakal.
The lockdown will be stricter on Wednesday, said Janak Raj Dahal, the Kathmandu chief district officer.
“We won’t let anyone come out of their homes from Wednesday onwards,” he said. “The only way to protect people from the spread of Covid-19 is to stop them from moving around.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of March 31, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 199 countries and infected more than 8,07,705 people with 39,456 deaths. In South Asia, Pakistan has reported the highest number of infections at 1,865 with 25 deaths. While India has reported 1,251 confirmed cases with 32 deaths. Nepal has so far reported five cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.