Crowds gathering at pick-up points at risk of infection

Kathmandu, April 22

Many people, who have started gathering around different junctures on Araniko Highway in Bhaktapur district in a bid to get vehicles to go back to their hometowns are in confusion and state of fear as they have failed to board vehicles.

While the authorities are saying they have not formally allowed vehicles to ply, the scenario shows these evacuations are being undertaken with tacit agreement from the authorities concerned.

Moreover, the government is turning a blind eye to the security issues related to people traveling without proper safety measures and maintaining social distance while travelling.

These people have gathered in the chowks after hearing news of hundreds of people being transported back to their villages in various eastern districts in the past couple of days.

Local governments of various eastern districts near Kathmandu valley such as Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Kavrepalanchowk, Ramechhap and Okhaldhunga have been managing vehicles for stranded people of their local levels to evacuate them from different places of the valley. These people have been told by their local leaders to wait at different chowks starting from Koteshwor where they will be picked up.

Seeing the crowds returning home, many people, even those who have not been contacted by their leaders, have started gathering around these junctures in the hope of getting a ride back home.

Navaraj Pokheral,46, of Mirge village in the rural part of Dolakha, along with his wife, a toddler son and two daughters arrived at Gatthaghar chowk in Bhaktapur at around 2:00pm after hearing that many people from his village had returned.

However, without any contact person and idea of which bus to take, these people were not able to get into any bus till late evening.

“I have met many families like mine. We are gathering in a group so that someone can help us. But it is unlikely that we can get into any bus since the seats of such buses are already booked.”

Pokharel later told THT through telephone at around 6:30pm, “We will not return to our rented room, but we will try to contact our local leaders back in our village to manage a bus for us, but we are not sure we will get help.”

While many people like Pokharel have not been able to return to their villages, lack of monitoring government agencies in such places is putting people at risk of contracting COVID-19.

These people have been gathering in groups without maintaining distance, without wearing proper masks or applying sanitisers, and thus increasing the chances of spreading the virus.

All three district administration offices inside Kathmandu Valley, the sole authorised body to issue vehicular pass for the movement of people say they have not issued any pass allowing any vehicle to ply the road. But, they have tacitly agreed to allow such vehicles to ply.

Krishna Bahadur Katuwal, Deputy Chief District Officer of Kathmandu said, “We have not issued pass to any such vehicle, and won’t allow people to travel in such a way.” When asked about dozens of vehicles transporting people from Koteshwor, Katuwal said the police might have allowed on humanitarian grounds.

Ranipokhari Metropolitan Police Office also said they had not officially allowed any vehicle to ply inside Kathmandu valley as per the government’s order.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on April 23, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.