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Editorial: Engage the people

Editorial: Engage the people

Some are calling it a second ‘lockdown’, some say it is a ‘shutdown’, while others prefer the phrase ‘added restriction’. If there is a difference between these terms being used to explain the state of affairs in Kathmandu Valley after Aug 20, the government does not seem to consider it necessary to explain. People are confused. Can they venture out for groceries? How far can they go from their homes? On what condition will they be fined and/or apprehended? The ambiguity is hard to understand. But this vagueness goes far beyond the specifics of the extra measures. It also concerns their rationale. Why are certain restrictions in place, and not the others? How will these measures help combat corona? What is the long-term government plan to contain the virus, or to buy a vaccine? Nothing is clear. 

The government does not feel the need to communicate with common folks, as if everything is self-explanatory. Well, it’s not. Many questions still remain from the time of the first nationwide lockdown. While corona-positive cases were inching up, why was the previous lockdown abruptly lifted? And after going without one for so many days, why are even more stringent measures being mulled? Rather than explain themselves, government ministers, from the PM down, seemingly want people to blindly follow their diktat. No wonder they are trusted so little. 

Public discontent will rise with the length of the restrictions. To regain public confidence, the government must first show it is honest in its fight against the coronavirus. What we have seen so far are arbitrary measures that make little sense. Another vital thing people need in these desperate times is hope. If they are able to see light at the end of the Covid tunnel, however long and dark it is, they will be more willing to bear some hardship. But how do they even know they won’t starve tomorrow? 

This collective despair could one day break bounds but, there are ways to minimize it. Besides daily bulletins on the number of new Covid cases, why not also give updates about government plans to, say, widen the scope of PCR testing? How about informing people about food depots in their community that will be open for business over the next week? And, as the economy sinks and joblessness surges, what kind of new social safety net can those sinking expect? Try to connect with the people. Official smugness will be to the detriment of everyone, including the popularly elected government.