Lockdown further relaxed in Valley with shops and public vehicles allowed to operateHealth experts say restrictions are being eased without any preparations and this could cause virus surge.
Prohibitory orders that have been in place in three districts of Kathmandu Valley since April 29 have been extended by a week starting Tuesday with further relaxation of restrictions.
A meeting of the Valley’s three chief district officers on Monday announced to extend the prohibitory orders by introducing further relaxation measures like allowing public transport vehicles having more than 25 seats to operate under odd-even number rule and opening shops until 6pm.
A notice published by the District Administration Office, Kathmandu on its website on Monday states that public vehicles which will be allowed to operate under the odd-even number rule between 6am and 7pm while shops can open until 6pm.
“We made the decision after consulting public health experts and other stakeholders. If the number of infections increases, we will once again increase the level of restriction,” said Kalpana Ghimire, assistant chief district officer of Kathmandu.
Transport operators had been urging the authorities to lift the restriction on public vehicles.
On Friday, three transport operators’ groups, including the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, had reached the local administration office with a request to end the restriction on public vehicles.
Yogendra Karmacharya, chairman of the federation, said authorities agreed to lift the restriction on public transport after repeated requests.
“We had requested the authorities to fully lift the restriction because the odd-even number rule will only cause crowding, increasing the risk of coronavirus spread,” said Karmacharya.
Some health experts have said it is too early to relax the restrictions.
“There is still risk. Majority of the people have not been vaccinated. By lifting the restrictions, the mobility of people will increase, increasing the risk of virus spread,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku.
Nepal so far has vaccinated 8.3 percent of its 30 million population, but only 2.4 percent of the population has received both doses.
Dr Baburam Marasaini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, said the three district administration offices of Kathmandu Valley are easing the lockdown without any preparations.
“During the lockdown period, the Health Ministry could have developed a system to reduce the risk of the virus transmission but it did nothing,” said Marasaini.
After a second wave of the coronavirus hit the country, Kathmandu Valley authorities had imposed strict prohibitory orders from April 29.
Over the past weeks, the authorities have been gradually easing the lockdown as the number of cases has started to decline. But experts say the threat is not over yet, and a third wave could strike the country very soon.
“It seems the government has not learnt from last year's mistake,” Dr Pun said about the way the authorities have been handling the pandemic.
As of Monday, the nationwide Covid-19 infection tally stood at 635,188 with 1,505 new cases. In the past 24 hours 42 people died of the virus with a countrywide death toll reaching 9,051. Of the total cases Kathmandu Valley recorded 514 new infections: 355 cases in Kathmandu, 112 in Lalitpur and 47 in Bhaktapur district.
Experts have attributed the decline in new daily infections to the prohibitory orders. But with the restrictions relaxed, they have warned the cases could go up again.