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Editorial: Missing urgency in Nepal

Editorial: Missing urgency in Nepal

Nepal is witnessing a surge in cases of sexual violence, divorces, and relationship breakdowns during the prolonged lockdown. The longer the lockdown continues, the tougher it gets for everyone. Yet there seems no respite in sight. New cases of corona are being reported with increasing frequency, right around the country, including in the national capital of Kathmandu. Some areas have been sealed off while curfews have been imposed in some other areas. Even as the fear of isolation and relationship breakdown grows, the dread of getting the virus is far greater.

So how does the state go about implementing the devilishly difficult decision of lifting the lockdown, which has to happen sooner or later? As reliable tests for the virus have been in desperate short supply in the country, how do you assess which areas are safe and which not? At the same time, can people be forced to stay holed up in their homes for months on end without a significant impact on their physical and mental health? And how do you provide for those without savings and who live almost exclusively on daily wages? All these things will have to be considered before lifting the restrictions on people’s movements.

Hard choices will have to be made. It will be dangerous to relax the lockdown much. Evidence from countries like Germany and South Korea suggest that such a relaxation almost instantly leads to a spike in the number of corona cases. So like it or not, most of the restrictions will have to remain intact. In this condition, as essential will be a huge economic package—something along the lines of India, which has set aside a Covid-19 relief fund that is 10 percent of its GDP. There has to be a calibrated income support for those in the bottom rungs of the economic ladder to keep them from falling into hunger and destitution. Again, international evidence suggests cash handouts are the most effective form of support for low-income groups.

There is no need to wait for the next budgetary cycle to announce the relief package. Also, the seeming lack of urgency to get China to export the medical equipment and testing kits that Nepal has already paid for is hard to understand. How can paperwork hold up such vital delivery? We need those medical goods here, instantly. Without mass testing with these imported test kits, the extended lockdown, however hard it has been on everyone, could go to a waste. There is not a moment to lose.