Long route buses back on the road, but few people leave ValleyPolice say only a fraction of normal traffic was observed on the city’s exit points.
Only a limited number of long-haul buses were seen on major highways on Thursday, the first of resumption of public transport across the country.
The buses were forced to remain off the roads after the government announced a nationwide lockdown from March 24 when two cases of Covid-19 were reported in the country. As of Thursday, the national infecion tally has reached 59,573 while the death toll stands at 383.
According to the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division only 5,333 people left the Kathmandu Valley on 1,695 public buses and private vehicles on Thursday, which coincided with the Biswokarma Puja, the day owners usually don’t operate their vehicles.
“During normal times, at least 10,000 vehicles would leave the valley carrying 20,000 passengers,” said Senior Superintendent Rameshwor Yadav, spokesperson for the division.
At New Bus Park, Gongabu, the main bus station in the Valley, few people booked tickets for buses leaving the Valley. However, tourist buses didn’t resume their services on Thursday.
“It was the first day of the reopening. Many of our buses needed maintenance,” said Prasant Acharya, managing director of New Road Travels and Tours, a company that operates tourist buses..
Although, the government has imposed the odd/even rule for both public and private vehicles that ply inside the Valley, the rule has been waived for long-route vehicles.
“Because it was Bishowkarma Puja. And many of our drivers are still in their village, we couldn’t operate the buses. We will do it from Friday onwards,” said Acharya.
According to the division 1,399 vehicles entered into the Valley from different borders with 4,075 passengers.
Yogendra Karmacharya, chairman of the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, said the number of vehicles on the roads is expected to remain low as people are reluctant to travel. “Because coronavirus cases have spiked in the Valley, people are extra cautious. We are also worried about our safety,” said Karmacharya.
On Thursday, the Kathmandu Valley reported 618 new infections. Of them, 507 were confirmed in Kathmandu, 61 in Lalitpur and 50 in Bhaktapur districts. As of Thursday, the number of cases in the Valley has reached 14,279. A total of 11,781 cases have been detected after district administrators of the Valley imposed prohibitory orders starting August 19 midnight.
“The government has finally paid heed to our problems. But the safest thing to do was to get all passengers checked before boarding buses,” said Karmacharya.
Even doctors and virologists have long been saying that the government should make PCR tests compulsory for people leaving the valley, to stop the spread of the virus to remote parts of the country.
However, the government doesn’t have any such plans. Till date, the only rules in place dictate that buses ferry only passengers equivalent to half of their seating capacity. They have been allowed to charge passengers 50 percent more than the usual fare. Despite health officials' concern, the government has not released a complete health protocol for long-haul transport.