Protests go on in the time of Covid-19Experts are concerned that protesters have not been maintaining physical distance as it can worsen the situation.
After Indian Minister for Defence Rajnath Singh announced the inauguration of a link road to Mansarovar that passes through Lipulekh in Nepal’s western frontier, hundreds of youths in different cities have been demonstrating against the encroachment despite lockdown restrictions.
According to the Metropolitan Police Office, Ranipokhari, over 200 protesters have been detained across the Valley in the past couple of days.
A total of 186 individuals, including 15 women, were arrested on Monday alone, said Senior Superintendent of Police Sushil Kumar Yadav, spokesperson for the Ranipokhari Police Office. “Even on Tuesday, 45 people have already been taken into custody.”
However, according to Yadav, no action was taken against them and they were released in the evening. “We detain them till the evening for not following the lockdown order,” said Yadav.
In the past few weeks, there have been several other demonstrations in the Valley. Last Friday, police arrested around 47 chinese nationals while they gathered for a sit-in outside Singha Durbar, demanding that they be allowed to leave for home.
The number of people taking to the streets has increased recently. On Saturday, nearly two dozen people including the family members and neighbours of Dibesh Pokharel gathered in Kalanki main road to show support and ask people to vote for Pokharel who recently made it among the top 7 finalists of American Idol. “The rally went for nearly half an hour before we ended it,” Dibesh's brother told the Post on the phone.
On April 24, Nepal Students’ Union, affiliated to the main opposition Nepali Congress, launched anti-government protests.
The demonstration was against the two controversial ordinances that the government had issued. Though the nationwide lockdown was enforced to control the spread of Covid-19, the union managed to stage the protests.
According to rights activist Charan Prasain, people gathering for protests in this situation is not right and risky. Instead of gathering, they can take up other forms such as submitting memoranda to the government or symbolic protests.
If people feel that they need to come out in the streets, then they should gather in small groups and maintain physical distance, said Prasain. “Even police, while detaining protesters, should be careful and use safety measures such as distancing in vans and also in custody.”
Nepal has been on a lockdown since March 24 to contain the spread of Covid-19; the latest extension until May 18 was the fourth. A total of 191 people have tested positive for the disease so far—57 reported on Tuesday alone. Thirty people have been discharged from hospital after recovering.
Even health experts have shown concerns over the protests as people were not following social distancing saying that it can worsen the situation.
“At a time when the cases of covid-19 are sharply increasing, gathering of people can be very dangerous,” said Dr Anup Bastola, spokesperson for the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
“Even if only one person happens to be infected among the protesters, the whole could get infected and later transfer [the virus] to others.”
“In this time, gathering simply means inviting covid-19 infection to yourself,” he warned. “Although governments have loosened the lockdown, people should be more aware and maintain social distancing more strictly as the number of infections are rising sharply.”
According to Senior Superintendent of Police Shyam Lal Gyawali, chief of the Metropolitan Police Range, Kathmandu, the protesters are arrested not because of their demonstration against the government, which is their right, but because they were not following the measures and not maintaining essential physical distance.
The ongoing protests have increased the risk of covid-19 infection not only in the public but also the personnel working in the field under high risk to ensure peace and public safety, Gyawali told the post.
“We are not stopping people from protesting; there are other ways of doing that. But demonstrating in the streets is inappropriate at this time,” he said.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 26, 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. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,589,712 people with 347,903 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 144,950 with 4,172 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 772 cases with four deaths.
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.