Kathmandu valley could again be locked down in the third week of December as the festive season winds down. The mayors of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur as well as the chiefs of smaller local-level units in the valley have suggested the same. They fear the covid situation in the valley—with now nearly 100,000 covid-positive cases, and close to 500 deaths—is getting out of hand. Anecdotal evidence suggests unreported cases will easily outweigh the reported ones. Without a more active intervention, the number of positive cases could explode and the valley’s hospitals be overwhelmed.
The local bodies’ leaders have asked the federal government to ramp PCR testing as well as contract-tracing. They also want additional hospital beds for serious patients. We hope the government, everyone from the prime minister down, is listening. The six months of the previous lockdown could have been used to drastically reduce virus-spread had they been coupled with mass testing and more effective contract-tracing. Yet most federal, provincial and local representatives appeared content to do nothing more, as if they expected the pandemic to die down with time. Protests erupted against the draconian measures aimed at curbing freedom of movement, even as the government seemed clueless of the end-goal.
With millions of livelihoods on the line, people are in no mood for another protracted lockdown. The authorities must hence come up with a clear roadmap on mass testing and contract-tracing—and a set timeline. Many started flouting the previous lockdown and other restrictions when they sensed the government’s indifference to their fate. After not working for long, they also got increasingly worried about their livelihood. Heavy-handed police interventions to force people into their homes or to arbitrarily fine the rule-breakers were counterproductive too.
Make no mistake. It won’t be easy to convince Kathmandu folks to again agree to hole themselves up in their homes—for any length of time. The government messaging is important. Can it convince them about its seriousness this time? If not, the government should brace for another revolt, more ferocious this time. The previous lockdown’s lesson was clear enough: you cannot take people for granted.