By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, July 29: Nepal’s COVID-19 infection graph has been steadily rising over the past week. Our positivity rate hovers around 20 per cent and the government and health experts are worried about an impending third wave of the pandemic.
Yet, one would not have known it by walking around the Basantapur area in Kathmandu on Wednesday where they would have seen people in close proximity to each other, many without masks, enjoying street food and beverages from stalls without sanitisers or handwashing stations.
“It’s like this every day. It is as if people think Basantapur is a bubble where they won’t contract the coronavirus,” Anjan Maskey, a local, said.
It was a similar scene in Lagankhel where people were metaphorically running over each other to get on tempos and buses. The rules issued by the District Administration Offices of the three districts of Kathmandu Valley require public transporters to provide sanitisers to all their passengers, make them wear masks and deny entry to anyone who refuses and disinfect their vehicles every day.
Tempos and small blue microbuses are additionally required to put a plastic sheet in between the rows of seats. However, this is easier said than done, complain transport operators.
“Passengers steal the sanitisers hung from our doors and some children rip and tear the plastic separation sheet,” said tempo driver Kisan Upreti. “Also, we ask passengers to maintain distance and get on another vehicle instead of crowding uncomfortably in one but they don’t listen. Everyone is in a hurry.”
Passengers agree. Come rush hour, people scramble to get on four and three-wheelers, losing all regard for safety measures in the process.
“What to do? We have to get to our destination in time,” said Ram Bijay Suwal, one of the persons struggling to get on a micro from Lagankhel to Ratnapark on Wednesday morning. “Inside the vehicle, people even take off their masks, complaining of discomfort,” said Sarita Bhandari, who got off a bus heading to Tikathali at Thapathali.
Yogendra Nath Karmacharya, president of the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, also said that public vehicles had largely been adhering to the government’s health protocol. “We have not received any complaints from any authorities about the actions of public transport operators,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, talking to The Rising Nepal by phone, Chief District Officer Kali Prasad Parajuli said that the authorities were actively monitoring public spaces and carrying out inspections to ensure that people followed the safety guidelines.
He urged everyone to understand the threat posed by the coronavirus and said that the District Administration Office was holding discussions with the government’s health agencies to chart the way forward.