Lifting the prohibitory order was a must as economic activities across the country had been hit hard

The local administrations of the Kathmandu Valley on Wednesday lifted the prohibitory order that had been in place for the last four months. However, all kinds of public gatherings, such as political rallies and mass meetings, jatras and religious festivals with large gatherings of people, have been banned until further notification as coronavirus cases have not yet subsided in the Kathmandu Valley. A meeting of the chief district officers of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur lifted the prohibitory order effective from September 2 without using the term "prohibitory' or 'lockdown'. All business activities will be allowed to resume by adhering to the health protocols prescribed by the Health Ministry, which has always requested the public to avoid public gatherings and unnecessary travel in public vehicles. As per the new rules, local levels can allow schools and colleges to resume physical classes with permission from the District COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre, which is responsible for monitoring the prohibitory order.

Leading organisations of the private schools and colleges had been lobbying with the government to reopen them citing adverse impact on the teaching-learning environment due to their prolonged shutdown. All entertainment and sport activities as well as restaurants have also been allowed to operate.

But Hindu women, who usually gather at the Shiva temples during the Teej festival that falls on September 9 this year, will not be allowed to amass. Local transportation carrying goods is allowed from 9a.m. to 11a.m. and from 4p.m. to 7p.m. every day, while vehicles carrying construction materials can operate only after 9p.m. till 5a.m. The local administrations have told the business organisations, groups and individuals to operate their business activities by complying with the COVID-19 health protocols. The CDOs have also been authorised to impose a smart lockdown based on the rate of infection, recovery and fatality rate and efficacy of the health care system in the given areas. The CDOs can impose a lockdown in their respective districts if the cases of COV- ID-19 infection cross more than 200. However, Kathmandu district has not seen any decline in the infection rate below 200 since last year.

Lifting the prohibitory order or lockdown was necessary as economic activities across the country had been hit hard, leaving tens of thousands of people out of work. A country like Nepal, whose economic base and health system is very weak, cannot endure a prolonged shutdown in the name of controlling the coronavirus. Gradual relaxation of the prohibitory order is a practical approach as an estimated 15 per cent of the total population has received double doses of anti-COVID-19 vaccines and around 68 per cent of the total population is said to have already acquired herd immunity. As the government has procured enough vaccines, ventilators, oxygen bottles and other medical equipment from various sources, there is no need to resort to an indefinite lockdown.

Still, we need to maintain social distancing, wearing facemasks and washing hands frequently to keep the coronavirus at bay. At the same time, we also need to immunise school-going children above 12 years of age so that they can take classes without fear.

Invest more in health

Research has shown that 17 per cent of the people worldwide are pushed into a cycle of poverty because they must invest in medical treatment. In Nepal's case, that some 55 per cent of the country's citizens are paying for their treatment means that the state is not investing adequately in the health sector.

Treatment in a private health facility is expensive even for a middle class family, and the treatment for cancer, and kidney and liver problems could cost them their lifelong savings. Worse still, given the poor access to health care services in the rural areas, patients in critical condition are having to be flown in helicopters to the capital for treatment, an unmanageable burden on an already impoverished people.

Thus, it make sense for the state to invest more in the health sector so that people can have affordable treatment at their doorsteps and also to prevent them from falling into poverty. This is particularly important during the pandemic period when hundreds of thousands of people are without work, and face a hard time making ends meet. Investment in health, nutrition and immunisation is an investment in the country's future and on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 3 2021, of The Himalayan Times.