By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Oct. 7: Kathmandu Valley records more than a thousand cases of COVID-19 every day these days. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the activities of the people. Public places are as crowded as ever, people are still seen walking around without masks and public transportations have paid no attention to the ‘half the passenger capacity’ rule.
Sonika Subba was walking around Mahabouddha with her mother on Monday evening, trying to pick out clothes to wear in Dashain. But she was appalled at the large crowds there. “I thought people had started returning home for the approaching festivals. But I was wrong,” she said.
Her mother Anita was half-expecting the crowds but thought that people would be aware and maintain social distancing. “But I see none of that here. People aren’t even wearing masks properly,” she said.
The situation appeared too frightening for the Subbas and they left without buying anything. “There are too many people in the shops and the shop owners aren’t managing them at all. It is very unsafe,” Sonika said as she left with her mother on her scooter.
But shop owners disagree with claims that the markets are crowded. Chandra Ranjitkar, owner of a utensils store in Bhedasingh, said that the shops in his area were deserted. “People usually flock to buy utensils and apparels in Dashain and Tihar. But not so this year.”
Ranjitkar also said that he had taken all the necessary precautions at his store. “I never take off my mask. There is a bottle of sanitizer right at the entrance. Yet, people think we are careless and do not come to the market; perhaps, opting to shop online,” he complained.
But a quick walk from New Road to Ason, Indrachowk and Bhotahiti shows scores of people, especially in the evenings, dangerously close to each other, moving around shops and looking at items. The District Administration Office of Kathmandu and the police have issued public notices on various occasions, asking them to adopt precautions. But not many seem to have paid heed to the appeals.
Nakul Balami, who was buying spices and disposable plates in Naradevi, put the onus of safety on shopkeepers. “They should enforce social distancing around their shops. After all, they are the ones most at risk if an infected customer comes by.”
Footpath vendors, though, flat out say that they cannot take any responsibility for protection against the coronavirus. The Rising Nepal spoke to eight footpath vendors of Sundhara, Ratnapark and Lagankhel and all of them said that precautions like keeping sanitizers would eat into their profits.
The vendors, who agreed to speak only if they were not identified, said, “Sanitizing the hands of each and every
customer we interact with is not possible.
We would finish a bottle of sanitizer every day and buying it will cost us money.”
Many footpath salespersons also did not appear to wear masks. Even when they wore them, they did not cover the nose. When asked, one of them said, “It is hard to breathe with masks on. We have to stand under the sun all day and it gets hot and sweaty underneath the face covering.”
The situation is equally bad in public transportation. Many vehicles flout the health protocols set by the government. Rameshwar Adhikari travels from Satdobato to Ratnapark every day and he said that the vehicles on his route neither have sanitizers nor do they follow the ‘half passenger capacity’ rule set by the government.
The Rising Nepal asked a few drivers and conductors in Ratnapark about the safety precautions they had taken, but they refused to answer. One of them said, “The traffic police hasn’t asked us about the number of passengers we keep. Who are you to inquire?”