The prohibitory orders may have been relaxed in Kathmandu, but the second wave of COVID-19 is far from

Seven weeks after the authorities enforced the prohibitory orders in the capital in a bid to contain the coronavirus, private vehicles and taxis have been allowed to ply on the streets on an odd-even basis from today while cautiously letting shops to open during specified times and days. The somewhat relaxed prohibitory orders have been extended till June 28 midnight. The relaxation comes in the wake of declining new cases of COVID-19, with 1,421 fresh cases recorded in the country on Sunday, including 348 cases in the Kathmandu Valley. This is the first time that the daily number of new cases has dropped below 1,500 since April 19, when 1,227 cases were diagnosed.

The relaxation in the prohibitory orders should come as a big relief to the people of the valley, who have not been able to venture out of their homes for nearly two months except for some brief hours in the morning to buy their groceries. The decision to allow shops selling non-essential items – from jewellery and sports goods to cosmetics and construction and hardware materials – on specified days and time has been greatly welcomed by the people at large.

Although one can expect the streets to be packed with private vehicles from Tuesday, mass movement of people from one place to another cannot take place until public vehicles are allowed to ply. The prohibitory orders, though harsh for the people, were a necessity to stop the fast spread of the second wave of the coronavirus, which this time has spread even to the villages. From thousands of daily new cases in the country when the prohibitory orders were introduced on April 29, the sharp decline in both the number of fresh cases and deaths today must be credited to the strict government regulations. But on the downside, it has come at a huge cost, with economic activities coming to a standstill and tens of thousands of people left without work and a livelihood.

The prohibitory orders may have been relaxed in Kathmandu, but the second wave of the coronavirus is far from over. The death rate is still high, with Sunday seeing 51 deaths from COVID-19, pushing the death toll from the respiratory contagion in the country to 8,726, which means a case fatality rate of 1.5 per cent. So every caution must be taken to see that the number of fresh infections does not go up with the relaxed prohibitory orders. There is speculation that Nepal is not doing enough tests, which is keeping the number of daily new infections lower than the actual figure. Countries such as Malaysia and Australia, with less population than Nepal, carry out many times more tests. With predictions of a third wave of the virus already, it behooves the government to stay alert for such an eventuality and try to prevent it before it is too late. There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from the relaxation in the lockdown clamped during the first wave last year. Had the authorities and the people not thrown caution to the wind, Nepal could have done with fewer number of infections and deaths during the second wave. The people must, thus, continue to religiously follow the mandatory health protocol while the government scouts for COVID-19 vaccines around the world.

Unplanned roads

One of the main reasons behind the heavy landslides in the hilly areas is the haphazard construction of rural roads without carrying out any environmental assessment before they are commissioned.

Most of the rural municipalities have given top priority to roads of their development, leaving other sectors, such as education and health care, aside. While the village roads may play a catalyst's role in the development of the rural areas, they have, however, been detrimental to the local environment.

A case in point is Martadi, the district headquarters of the remote district of Bajura, where human settlements there are at high risk of landslides due to the haphazard construction of rural roads using heavy machinery, which is mostly owned by the local leaders.

Studies commissioned by researchers have found that the unplanned roads are the main reason behind the heavy mudslides in the fragile hills and mountains. The mudslides not only sweep away the fertile farmland in the given areas but also block the free flow of rivers and rivulets during the rainy season, causing huge damage to the plain areas downstream.

So, all the local levels must heed the expert opinions before constructing a road in the hilly areas.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 22, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.