Hand washing stations were installed across the city to fight virus–but they have no water nowWhile people complain about authorities’ failure to ensure one simple measure against the virus, officials say no one uses them as everyone uses hand sanitiser.
When Tilak Raj Pokharel, a mason, went to wash his hands at a hand washing station at Thapathali on Thursday, he was in for a surprise. Monkeys were taking turns to suck on the dry tap.
“Monkeys were trying hard to drink water from the tap. I chased them away and turned on the tap,” said Pokharel, 47, who was working at the Kalmochan temple next to the washing station. “There was no water. On the tank stand, the place for soap was empty.”
The Thapathali hand washing station is one of the 80 the Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited had installed in partnership with local councils across Kathmandu Valley when the nationwide lockdown was imposed from March 24.
But today, none of the stations the Post came across at Jawalakhel, Lagankhel, Teku, Tripureshwor, New Road, Basantapur and many inner alleys of the Valley had running water.
Hand hygiene or washing hands with soap is the first line of defence against the coronavirus and the move to install such hand washing stations at different places was largely welcomed.
“We had placed those stations overnight for the use by the general public as a precautionary measure,” said Milan Kumar Shakya, acting manager at Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited.
Several other organisations, including non-government and government ones, as well as local wards and private companies also pitched in to safeguard against the virus.
“I was very happy to see hand washing stations with running water and soap at street corners in those initial days, but now none of them contains water,” said Dan Bahadur Khatri, 48, a teacher from Bagdole in Lalitpur. “This is gross negligence on the government's part, because at this time hand washing is essential to be safe from coronavirus transmission.”
Kathmandu Valley on Friday reported 106 new Covid-19 cases, 92 of which were from Kathmandu, 10 from Lalitpur and four from Bhaktapur.
Till date, the Valley has detected a total of 874 positive cases of Covid-19; 673 from Kathmandu, 123 from Lalitpur and 78 from Bhaktapur.
It is concerning that the tanks are empty these days when there is an increased movement of people since the lockdown was lifted, public health experts say.
"It's a well-known and simple fact that washing hands is the simplest way to protect oneself from the infection," said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the clinical research unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital. "Now people are habituated to washing their hands because everywhere they hear about it. But I wonder why the government authority is not ensuring this simple preventive measure."
According to officials at the KUKL, each hand washing station with the PVC tank, the iron stand, the steel sink with a tap and pipe cost Rs 30,000 to install.
The kitchen sinks at the hand washing stations are covered in dust and some are full of garbage. Others are even damaged.
In some places sinks have been stolen, according to a KUKL official.
Shakya, however, said people don't use the hand washing stations any more.
“These days hand sanitisers are easily available. They are kept everywhere from public vehicles to grocery stores," Shakya told the Post. "People are not interested in using the public hand washing stations.”
However, not everyone can have access to hand sanitisers and some say the government is just making an excuse.
“How would I buy sanitiser?” said Sangita Thapa, 41, who sells roasted maize cobs in front of Jawalakhel Police Station. Nearby is a green PVC water tank with no water.
“If only there were running water, I could wash my hands," she said.
Thapa said last week she saw a water tanker filling the tank. “But it was leaking and soon got emptied of the water. Nobody has bothered to repair it."
In Lalitpur Metropolitan City alone, there are 16 such stations, according to Dol Prasad Chapagain, Lalitpur chief of the KUKL.
“This project, however, did not sustain because of a weak management,” said Chapagain. “When the hand washing stations were installed, the metropolitan cities took the responsibility of maintaining them.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 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 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 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.