Following the WHO pandemic announcement, on March 11, Nepal suspended all visa delivery and trekking permits to foreigners. All schools completed exams (below grade 10) by March 18 as per government order. Then, starting March 24, a nationwide lockdown was set up, cancelling all domestic and international flights, postponing exams for rest, as well as closing hotels, restaurants, market places, shops, festivals, etc.
All residents and visitors in Kathmandu have been required to stay home, to apply distancing measures, to avoid non-essential movements and grouping of more than 25 people. Private vehicles and people’s movement have been allowed only for seeking medical care or essential goods. Many laborers and low-income people started moving out of the capital to home on foot. A number of them stayed stuck in the Valley with no more income.
Streets of Kathmandu under the lockdown
Lockdown is not that strict in remote locations. Intra-village travel is permitted but inter-village travel is prohibited. Police vans round with mikes asking people to stay home. Although borders with India and China are sealed, fuel and food trucks are allowed to cross.
All these measures have been extended until April 27. It is uncertain, at this moment, how long it will go. If the situation deteriorates, the government may enforce stricter measures (citizens no more compelled to stay home but ordered to do so).
As of April 15, in Nepal, only 16 cases were reported (1 recovered, 0 death), which might be underestimated. Recent cases were from the Southern border with India.
First, the testing and treatment of Corona infected were taking place in the Teku Hospital only. Now, the Armed Police (Nepal paramilitary force) Hospital has been turned into a Corona dedicated hospital. Helicopters are being used to rescue the victims during medical emergencies from remote locations, and also for sample collections. Health personnel and ambulance drivers are wearing protective kits during the service. Retired health personnel have been welcomed to volunteer to fight this pandemic.
Prior to the lockdown, in Kathmandu, dust and smoke were already imposing to wear masks. However, since thousands of masks were supplied to China, when it was hit by COVID-19, Nepal had to face a masks’ shortage. Some retailers took advantage of the situation and sold the remaining masks at higher rates.
GOVERNMENT SUSTAINMENT MEASURES
The government has taken several measures to mitigate the situation: discounts on electricity, telephone charges and house rents (only to laborers and people with low income), extension of tax payment deadlines, insurance for health workers and security personnel, ban on import of luxury vehicles and so on. Private schools have been ordered to waive fees of one month, except hostel fees. Incentives will be provided to the security personnel, health workers and volunteers during COVID-19.
The government decided to raise foreign debt to help provide relief to the people affected by the Coronavirus crisis. Donations from companies and a portion of ministers’ salaries have been called and added to a Corona Fund.
People have volunteered to feed the needy ones, including hungry stray animals. Responsibility was given to Ward Heads to monitor the distribution of food relief, but it didn’t seem that effective, as some ineligible people were taking advantage of the situation… Recently, the government has become more active to ensure no one starves.
Even though there were rumors of gas shortage, half-filled cylinders are currently available. Prices have been slightly hiked on goods and commodities. Timing has been fixed to buy food items.
Vegetables, like cabbage, cauliflower and mushrooms are available locally. We see farmers active every day. Shops open in the morning and evening for a few hours. Some keep the shutters down and open it when customers arrive and some shut the shop only when they hear the police siren.
Work from home has been promoted, but its effectiveness still needs to be proved. Brick factories can be seen popping black smokes. Construction and maintenance works are still in progress, especially on the roads.
However, obstruction for international tourists and workers should have a significant negative effect on Nepal’s economy. Likewise, the absence of remittance from foreign employment to Nepalese families will increase poverty.
It appears the Valley is sleeping, with no more crowd, noise and pollution level. Visibility has improved. One can have a clear view of mountain ranges and enjoy the sunrise. The world must pay heed to sanitation, environment and wildlife conservation, with a ban on wild animal trade.
Views of the Valley from our Home
IMPACT ON S.E.A. STUDENTS
HCA kids’ final exams were over before the lockdown, except for Simran, who had to take the School Evaluation Examination (SEE), now postponed till next notice.
The lockdown started just a few weeks before vacation time and most SEA students went back to their families. Mid-April, all the kids contacted said they were sound and in good health.
- Sneha is with her father and step-mother at Banepa, close to the Kathmandu Valley.
- Suman, in his first year for Bachelor in Hotel Management, had appeared for two exams, but the remaining ones were postponed. He is living with his mother in the Valley.
- Samjhana Jr is with her family in Kathmandu. Her destitute family will probably be further impoverished by the lockdown.
- Pratika is in Chitwan, outside the Valley at her maternal uncle’s place with her mom.
- Junmaya, Sunmaya and Prabin are with their family in Sindhupalchok, their hometown. The two girls have carried books along to study.
- Simran is with her family in Kathmandu. Her family (6 people) started suffering from food shortage, but recently they started receiving food supplies from the government. When the lockdown is over, she has been asked to come Home, if feasible.
All other students are in Dhading:
- Ananda, Rajendra and his sister, Sarita are with their family and are engaged in household works and field works. Ananda and Rajendra have books with them to study when possible.
- Anu is with her brother, sister in law and their kids. She helps them in household work.
- Rammaya is with her grandfather. She herds the goats and helps her grandpa with each and every possible works.
- Sandesh is definitively back with his father, following the HCA school recommendation. SEA has provided him with enough medicines for several months.
Lastly, six of us are in the Home: Ankit, Aruna, Ashmita, Usha, Tara didi and me. For us, the daily routine is almost the same: help Tara didi in the kitchen, clean the flat, feed the dogs and take them for walks. The kids spend time making puzzles, playing five stones (similar to knucklebone), watching movies, surfing the net and sometimes reading story books. Usha sticks to her course and studies sincerely. Recently, all kids have been provided assignments through internet and have started studying their course contents. Tara didi is punctual with her morning yoga. Ankit, who loves playing with dogs, often joins her for the dogs’ morning walk.
From left to right : Tara, Ankit, Anga, Usha, Aruna and Asmita (Apr 2020)
As for me, when my mid-semester break started on March 4, I first decided to stay in the MNNIT campus and utilize the time to prepare for a new job. I had a firm job proposal with an NGO and was eligible to apply for other jobs too, in case I found a better one. After 10 days, we were notified to evacuate the hostel. So, I travelled to Kathmandu where I would be able to look for job opportunities and stay updated with the situation via the internet.
Within a week of my arrival, the lockdown was declared. I am not sedentary so at the initial phase I was starting to have a “brain lockdown”. During the first weeks, I was counting each day, assuming the following day will be better and productive.
Now, online classes have started and will go on till the end of April. We have been granted access to online reading materials like research papers through the campus. All the semester activities except the Academics have been cancelled. The whole month of May is Summer Vacation. We are expected to be in the Campus in the first week of June. The semester has been extended by around 45 days.
In the last week of February, we had a lecture where the teacher talked about recession, and mentioned it was not far from coming… and it’s now on its way to have a global impact on the economy and employment! He suggested to focus on core companies for jobs rather than software companies, as the former are less likely affected by recession.
I am now putting efforts to re-motivate myself, boost the strong side and think wisely about career and life goals. I have enough time to learn new skills, improve the existing ones, and prepare for a good job. If my mind stays in the track, I also plan to write a piece of free writing about my deep thoughts: “Recalls of a Flusher”.
I am missing a lot – and will probably continue to miss for a while – football, both playing and watching, especially the Champions League. I hope the lockdown is over soon, so that I can – at least – hang out with friends and relatives.