The government often takes decisions on an ad hoc basis and, in most cases, relents under pressure from the stakeholders

The government’s decision to allow public vehicles to carry passengers at full capacity, as in the airlines, must have elated their operators. In a cabinet meeting held on Sunday, the government reversed its previous directives, allowing public vehicles to carry passengers at full capacity even on long-distance routes and inter-district travel, keeping in mind the upcoming Dashain and Tihar festivals. During this festival season, thousands of people leave the Kathmandu Valley for home to meet parents and relatives.

Earlier, the government had strictly enforced a rule under which airlines and public vehicles were allowed to carry only half the number of passengers of their carrying capacity. Following mounting pressure from airline companies, the government allowed them to fly passengers at full capacity, ignoring the health risk factor. The government’s earlier decision regarding the airlines did not last even a week. Ditto it is for public vehicles. As per the Department of Transport Management (DoTM), around 2 million people living in Kathmandu had gone home during the festival season last year. This year, the number of people leaving the Valley is estimated to be less than one-third of last year. The public vehicle operators estimate the number to be even fewer than 200,000 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of uncertainty about the number of passengers wanting to travel by road, the bus operators have not opened advance ticket bookings that were supposed to start on October 11, one week before the start of the Dashain festival, which begins from October 17. It means that the public vehicle operators will get fewer passengers and suffer further setback in their business during the festival season due to the spike in corona cases in the Valley and in other major cities. Even the parents and relatives in the villages and towns are advising their near and dear ones to stay put where they are. People have also chosen to avoid unnecessary travel, as requested by the government and as advised by health experts. They are neither going out of the Valley nor coming to the capital.

In all probability, even lesser number of people will travel long distance by road after the government allowed the public vehicles to carry passengers at full capacity. People will be scared to travel in a crowded vehicle that is unlikely to fulfill the required health protocol. Since coronavirus is an airborne disease, one infected person is enough to transmit it to fellow travellers, who will then carry the disease to their villages that have been less affected so far. Frustrating to note is that the government takes most of its decisions on an ad hoc basis, and, in most cases, it reverses its decisions under pressure from the concerned stakeholders. The government should stick to its decision if it helps protect public health. So what can be advised at this moment of crisis is that people should avoid unnecessary travel, wear face masks and maintain physical distancing. They are the only ways to protect ourselves and others around from the virus.

We can still celebrate our festivals with much fanfare next year if we stay healthy and alive now.

Stay vigilant

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted not only the health, education and financial sectors but also the security and safety of citizens, especially girls and women. The spurt in the number of rape cases and sexual assaults on women, for instance, only shows that a plan of action is required to cope with the challenge being posed by the pandemic. Therefore, the Home Minister’s directive to the security agencies to prepare an effective strategy to deal with the increasing criminal activities in the country in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic is timely.

Violence against women apart, everyone must be on their guard to prevent crimes like theft and robberies with Dashain starting this weekend. It’s a very difficult situation for everyone with people having to stay idle at home without work or pay for months now. There is massive frustration among the people with the state unable to provide any subsistence allowance to its citizens as in other countries. The temptation to engage in criminal activities will thus be high during the festive season. Also, the security agencies as well as the consumer forums must be vigilant to stop the blackmarketing of essential goods during Dashain.