Kathmandu is abuzz with rumors of a lockdown. Most have heard “through the grapevine” that Covid-19 cases are surging and a lockdown is imminent. But Kathmanduites seem to be in no mood to stay at home. Not again.
Siddhi Ratna Bajracharya, 45, who owns a jewelry shop in Pulchowk, Lalitpur, says normal life has barely resumed and the economy is still struggling. A lockdown now will take us, quite literally, to the depths of despair.
“Many of us are just regaining our sense of self. We are slowly recovering from the physical, mental, emotional, and financial trauma we suffered during the lockdowns last year. Another one will kill our spirits. That’s worse than what Covid-19 may do to us,” he says.
Bajracharya contracted the novel coronavirus in the latter half of 2020. His symptoms were mild and his family members weren’t infected. He considers himself lucky that way. But the stress of having to stay at home while his business suffered huge losses every day and his savings dwindled took a big toll on his mental health.
“It was more difficult to get over that than it was to recover from Covid-19,” he says.
Indeed, every person ApEx spoke to seemed to think that being cooped up at home was worse than suffering from Covid-19. There’s definitely a general sense of unease but there’s hardly any fear. Most people have had enough. They just want to go about their days as they did before the pandemic and let destiny take its course.
Balvadra Subedi, 52, owner of Subedi Store at Babarmahal, Kathmandu, says a lockdown isn’t the solution anymore. The lockdowns in 2020 didn’t accomplish what they were supposed to primarily because Nepal went into a lockdown when there were hardly any cases of Covid-19 and came out of it as cases were beginning to show.
The government, Subedi says, should now focus on minimizing crowds and speed up the vaccination drive. Meanwhile, sealing the borders and controlling inter-district movement could help.
“Last year, a lot of people suffered from Covid-19. But many also suffered because of hunger. Nepal shouldn’t make the mistake of being apathetic towards its poorest citizens again,” he says.
Cause for concern
The consensus was that lockdown is a luxury of the rich. It’s Dashain come early for those with palatial homes and sizeable bank balances. But for those who depend on daily earnings to feed their families or are confined in small spaces, it’s a harrowing and humiliating ordeal.
Kumari Tamang, 37, a daily wage earner who has been working and living in Kathmandu for over two decades, says another lockdown will mean packing her meager belongings to go live in the village.
Tamang cleans and cooks for a family in the morning and evening and runs a tiny store during the afternoon. She is the sole earner in her family of four and is barely able to make ends meet after paying her children’s school fees.
“I couldn’t go to school so I will do whatever it takes to make sure my son and daughter get a good education. That’s always been the priority,” says Tamang. Unfortunately, that means she will be unable to pay rent and buy food if there’s another lockdown and her work is affected.
Similar to hers is 39-year-old Prabina Shrestha’s story. She says when you have rent, bills, and daily expenses to manage, lockdown brings about a lot of instability and anxiety.
Shrestha, who runs a small grocery store in Jawalakhel, Lalitpur, says she fears the disease but she’s worried about her daughter’s future even more.
Her daughter, she says, has already spent a year away from school, hampering not just her formal education but her learning abilities as well. Shrestha thinks a lockdown will make children, who already don’t particularly enjoy studying and going to school, even more unruly and complacent.
“Children need a sense of routine and discipline. This kind of on-and-off lockdown and uncertainty are harmful for their growth,” she says.
ApEx spoke to some students who expressed their concerns over the necessity and impact of a lockdown. A lockdown, they believe, won’t be effective in stopping the virus from spreading. What it will do instead is instill unnecessary fear and drain our energies as well as resources.
“The government needs to learn from its past mistakes and find other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It shouldn’t implement a futile control method just to show it’s doing something,” says Sejal Sainju, 19, a student at St Xavier’s College.
Her friend Rahul Shrestha, 19, who studies in Kathmandu Model College, says online education is still a new concept and thus it’s not as effective as classroom learning. You tend to be distracted as well as procrastinate a lot when you study/work from home, he adds.
Shifting the focus
All the people ApEx spoke to said there are no upsides of a lockdown, only disadvantages and harmful consequences. Not even one spoke in its favor.
The problem is that currently most Nepalis aren’t following basic safety measures. Those in the government have also allowed mass gatherings and rallies when it has suited them. The collective opinion is that you can’t run amok like the pandemic never happened and then shut yourself at home when things get out of hand—which essentially seems to be the government’s approach. A lockdown only makes sense when you have exercised all other precautionary methods and nothing has worked.
Bhairabi Ghimire, 31, executive at Chaudhary Group, says limiting movement from one district to another and imposing stricter rules around border areas could be an efficient way to curtail infection. A partial lockdown—closing of public places and restricting movement during certain hours—could work if implemented early on.
“The government should give priority to building proper quarantine and isolation facilities and equip hospitals to better handle Covid-19 cases. The focus needs to shift to minimizing infection and ensuring recovery,” she says.
Ghimire’s statement was met with approval when people were asked if they thought that could be a sensible, more humane way of dealing with the pandemic.
Hari Shrestha, 43, businessman, says government efforts have been directed largely at stopping the spread. But in a pandemic caused by an air-borne virus, it’s perhaps only a matter of time before the majority of the population contracts it in some form. How to deal with the infection isn’t an area the government has looked into but it’s high time it did, he adds.
Speaking at Nepal Health Conclave on April 6, Minister for Health and Population Hridayesh Tripathi said Nepal government would take necessary measures to avoid another lockdown.
He added that daily cases of Covid-19 could peak around June this year, if proper measures aren’t taken. The government has begun antigen testing at border entry points as coronavirus cases are increasing in India. Tripathi also urged people to be vigilant and exercise caution to reduce risk of infection.
His statements, however, did nothing to pacify people who called it routine and redundant. What’s worse is that people no longer take the government seriously because it’s notorious for saying something and doing the exact opposite. Hari Shrestha says he wasn’t surprised. He expected the government to tell people that the onus lies on them and do the bare minimum themselves.
“The government can’t afford to be lackadaisical in its efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus if it is honest about avoiding a lockdown,” he concludes.