Even experts find the idea of ‘smart lockdown’ puzzlingWhen it comes to strictly enforcing selective restrictions, the government has already failed to ensure public vehicles do not carry passengers more than their seating capacities and restaurants do not operate dine-in services.
In a bid to contain the growing number of Covid-19 cases, the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre on Monday issued a circular to the district administration offices across the country to enforce ‘smart lockdowns’.
However, this is not the first time the centre came up with the idea of such a lockdown. Two months ago, on June 20, when the prohibitory orders in Kathmandu Valley were loosened, the centre had used the term ‘smart lockdown’ while introducing an odd-even number rule for vehicles and allowing businesses to operate on alternate days. But the authorities themselves were not clear what exactly smart lockdown meant and how they were going to implement it.
On June 20, Nepal recorded 1,421 new infections and 51 Covid-19-related fatalities. But, in a span of nearly two months, daily infections have doubled with the country reporting over 3,000 new cases every day. On Wednesday the country reported a total of 3,403 new cases of which 2,613 were from polymerase chain reaction tests.
In the Capital, major markets and business districts including Ason, Indrachowk, Putalisadak and New Baneshwar have been seeing huge crowds.
Although the government launched a ‘mask up campaign’ a week ago, when the country’s Covid-19 related deaths crossed the 10,000 mark, many people are still flouting the rule.
Kathmandu Valley on Thursday recorded 867 new infections. Of those, 639 cases were confirmed in Kathmandu, 127 in Lalitpur and 101 in Bhaktapur. In the past one month, the Valley has been recording around 900 cases daily.
“We still have time to make preparations for ‘smart lockdown’ because the existing prohibitory orders will remain in effect until August 24. We need to take a different approach to Kathmandu,” said Kali Prasad Parajuli, chief district officer of Kathmandu.
“We will come up with new decisions before the expiry of the existing prohibitory orders in the Valley,” said Parajuli.
When asked what a ‘smart lockdown’ means, he suggested selectively sealing areas that have higher Covid-19 cases to tame the virus transmission.
However, none of the districts including Kathmandu has reliable data to pinpoint Covid-19 hotspots and infection clusters to enforce localised restrictions.
Doctors say it is difficult to impose selective restrictions as there has not been any homework.
“It will be difficult to selectively impose restrictions in Kathmandu Valley. How will you control the flow of people if more cases are found in Ason? It’s easier said than done," said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
Dr Pun said he doesn’t know what ‘smart lockdown’ exactly means and how the authorities are going to implement it.
Health experts doubt the government will succeed in enforcing localised restrictions when it has failed to limit the passenger numbers in public vehicles, ban dine-in services in restaurants and prohibit public functions and gatherings.
There has also been criticism of the government for its inability to tighten the porous border with India when the country’s Covid-19 cases saw record spikes during the first and second second waves of the pandemic.
Despite constant warnings by health officials about a looming third wave, public movement across the Nepal-India border remains unregulated.
“The government using the word ‘smart’ itself is problematic,” said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
He said officials at the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre should have been cautious while using the word ‘smart’.
“How will they impose a smart lockdown when the authorities have failed to control crowds and make people follow health protocols?” said Marasini.
He ridiculed the government’s infatuation with the term ‘smart’ saying that the ideas of ‘smart city’, ‘smart toilets’, and ‘smart street lamps’ have not yet materialised.
The centre in its Monday circular had said authorities concerned could divide districts, local units or areas into red, amber, yellow and green zones and impose restrictions accordingly as per the risk status.
Even though the infection rate is gradually going up, the government has not done anything other than banning public and private vehicles, including two-wheelers, after 8pm starting last week. But the decision to ban vehicles after 8pm has caused quite an uproar, with many criticising the move as short-sighted and impractical.
Not only the members of the public and health officials, even a lawmaker from the ruling party raised the issue in the House of Representatives and questioned the logic behind imposing a ban on vehicles after 8pm.
Health experts have also been criticising the government for failing to take the basic Covid-19 control measures such as tracing, testing and treating.
At a time when doctors have been warning about a devastating third wave hitting the country anytime soon, the Kathmandu Metropolitan City from the first week of August has suspended Covid-19 free treatment services at the Naradevi Ayurvedic Hospital and Chhetrapati Free Clinic Hospital purportedly to cut costs.
The authorities have also failed to ramp up antigen tests and kits are close to their expiration dates. Expanding the antigen tests helps in tracing how the virus is spreading in the communities and it is the best way to see how the virus is spreading in society, according to doctors.
Although the District Administration Office, Kathmandu in the first week of April made an announcement that it is mandatory for those entering Kathmandu Valley to undergo an antigen test, the rule hasn’t been implemented.
According to Metropolitan Traffic Police Division Kathmandu, on an average 20,000 people are entering the Valley through various entry points daily. Health experts say this has further increased the risk of virus transmission.
When the Post asked Dr Anup Bastola, director at the Teku-based Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, what ‘smart lockdown' was, he replied: “I guess, it should be a measure through which to control the crowds, but that has not been happening.”