Decision to enforce odd-even rule on vehicular movement has not checked virus spreadThe rule has led to overcrowding in public transport and experts say its efficacy should have been reviewed earlier. Officials say they will review the decision soon.
On September 5, following the three weeks of prohibitory orders in August, the government decided to enforce an odd even-rule for vehicular movement in Kathmandu Valley hoping that this would discourage people coming out of their homes and the spread of the virus would be checked.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, exactly the opposite has happened.
On September 5, the number of positive cases across the country stood at 45,277. In Kathmandu Valley this figure stood at 7,900.
As of Monday, the number of positive cases stood at 249,244 nationwide and 116,023 in the Valley, or 203,967 more in the country and 108,213 more in Kathmandu Valley than September 5, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Population. The nationwide death toll on Monday stood at 1,716.
Public health experts have questioned the ad-hoc decision of enforcing odd even rules for vehicles and maintain that this decision is partly responsible for the spread of coronavirus.
“I don’t understand how it will be possible to maintain social distancing by forcing people to board crammed vehicles,” Dr GD Thakur, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, told the Post.
With businesses and offices open, people have since September 5 been travelling on public buses which ply based on the odd-even rule.
“The decision has not only been giving trouble to the people, but has been also proved counterproductive,” said Thakur.
On the other hand, traffic police have also been impounding private motorcycles and vehicles on an ad-hoc basis if they are found to be flouting the odd-even rule.
“We are quite aware about the public’s grievances over the odd-even rule,” Kali Prasad Parajuli, chief district officer of Kathmandu, told the Post.
But three months since the decision, there has been no review of the effect of the decision on the spread of the virus.
In the pandemic, authorities concerned are supposed to conduct daily, weekly and monthly review of the situation and the decision taken to handle the pandemic, according to Thakur.
“Had the authorities reviewed the effects of the odd-even rule enforced on vehicles, they would have scrapped the decision long ago,” Thakur told the Post. “Some decisions may not work, but they should be replaced by new decisions.”
This passivity on the part of the authorities is also a reflection of how serious they are about the control of the spread of the coronavirus, experts say.
“Continuation of the decision, taken months ago, which has only helped spread the infection, shows how seriously we are working to contain the spread of the infection,”said Thakur.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, under whose orders the police enforce the odd-even rule on vehicular movement, said that it cannot do anything, as the decision was taken by the Cabinet.
“We don’t know if the decision to enforce odd even rules is working or not,”Chakra Bahadur Budha, spokesperson for the Home Ministry, told the Post.
Of late, the number of new cases have declined after the authorities stopped providing free testing in October. Although the government was forced to resume free testing following a Supreme Court decision, contact tracing has all but stopped since October 17.
Meanwhile, most of the public places have opened and more and more schools are opening both across the country and in Kathmandu Valley.
Doctors said that the continuation of the odd even rule in the vehicles, which only gathered crowds could bring disaster in the days to come.
“It is impossible to maintain social distancing in the public vehicles,” Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical research Unit at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post. “The odd-even rule will be effective only if the movement of the public is low.”
Spread of highly contagious coronavirus can be halted only by completely halting public movement and it is impossible at the time when all business has resumed like during the pre-pandemic period, according to Pun.
Even as authorities have enforced odd-even rules in Kathmandu Valley, it has been unable to prohibit protests and rallies of different political parties, which pose serious risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Following pro-monarchy protests in different parts of the country in the past weeks, on Monday the Nepali Congress party organised anti-government protests in all 77 districts of the country, including Kathmandu Valley, a decision that political analysts have called misguided.
“We are not the agencies to contain the rallies of political parties including motorcycle rallies,” Janak Bhattarai, senior superintendent of police at Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, told the Post. “We are tasked to enforce the odd even rules and this we are implementing.”
Until a new decision is made, the odd-even rule is set to continue.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, it is the local administration who makes the decision on this.
“The district administration is responsible to enforce and lift the odd even rules,” said ministry spokesman Budha.
According to Parajuli, the chief district officer of Kathmandu, the decision will be reviewed soon.
“We are going to hold a meeting of the chief district officers of the valley soon to review the effect of the decision,” he told the Post.
But the decision whether to continue with or lift the odd-even rule on vehicular movement will not be made by the three chief district officers of Kathmandu, Bhaktpaur and Lalitpur.
“We will recommend after reviewing the decision to the Covid-19 Crisis Management Center after the meeting,” Parajuli said.
The Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokharel. But its role has been limited to making recommendations to the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.