Coronavirus infection threat spreads panic

Kathmandu, March 13

Though only a single case of novel coronavirus has been detected in the country so far and that person was discharged on January 23 following treatment, the fear lingering over the possible outbreak of the deadly virus in Nepal has spread panic among the public, with people avoiding going out in public places unless it is necessary.

Apprehension of the possible outbreak of the virus has led to dwindling footfalls in malls, groceries and cinema theatres in recent times. “As the virus has spread globally and has been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, we cannot say that it won’t spread in Nepal,” said Pramila Kharel, a resident of Chabahil who has a four-year-old school-going daughter. “It is crucial to take as many precautionary measures as possible.”

She opined that the government should also shut educational institutions for a certain period until the virus is contained.

The panic among people over the possible spread of coronavirus is also reflected in the reduced traffic movement in Kathmandu valley lately. Jeevan Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for Metropolitan Traffic Police, said the movement of vehicles in the valley has come down slightly in the recent days, probably due to fear of the virus.

Places like New Road and Thamel, which are usually teeming with people out for shopping or for leisure purposes, have witnessed limited flow of people that has subsequently hit businesses operating in these areas.

Anuja Pokharel, who owns a mobile accessory shop in Mahaboudha, said her business had declined by over 70 per cent in the recent weeks. “Not only do we have limited stock of goods due to halt in supply from China, but the number of customers visiting our shop has also dropped. In fact, none of the shops in New Road are crowded these days.”

Alok Poudel, who owns a souvenir shop in Thamel targeting foreign tourists, is planning to close his shop for few weeks and stay home. “Souvenir items are primarily purchased by foreigners. As the inflow of foreign tourists is literally nil, business has slumped completely,” he reiterated.

Cinema theatres have been faring no better. With the government appealing to the public to avoid mass gatherings, cinema theatres that used to be crowded till a month back are almost empty these days. “Generally, the inflow of people in theatres is determined by the quality of the movie. However, people are avoiding any form of mass gatherings, including film halls,” said Binod Poudel, manager of QFX Cinemas.

Meanwhile, panic over the possible spread of coronavirus has also triggered a rush of people to purchase essential goods, including liquefied petroleum gas. The assurance made by traders and government officials that there is sufficient stock of essential goods has not dissuaded the consumers from panic buying.

“The supply of cooking gas is intact. However, the demand for LPG has surged significantly in recent weeks which can lead to a shortage. Panic buying will hit the supply-demand chain and aggravate the crisis,” said Gokul Bhandari, president of Nepal LP Gas Industry Association.