After Nepal registered 1,016 new cases of Covid-19, its biggest daily rise so far, the authorities have decided to re-impose lockdown for a week in Kathmandu Valley starting midnight Wednesday.
The three Chief District Officers of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur decided after a meeting on Tuesday to restrict all movement except essential services. Other cities and districts across the country, mainly in the Tarai, have had local shutdowns for the past week. Pokhara has also announced a curfew till Friday.
Nepal had been under strict nationwide lockdown from 24 March, but it was eased on 21 June allowing limited local public transport, opening of shops and restaurants. However, the announcement also saw a surge of people entering Nepal from India. After the Tarai cities started reporting spikes, the infection also spread to Kathmandu.
The steepest daily rise brought Nepal’s total confirmed cases to 28,257, and the seven more fatalities brought the number of dead so far from SARS-CoV-2 to 114. The number of dead has doubled in the past two weeks.
Kathmandu Valley alone saw 205 new cases – also the highest daily rise so far. The difference from the first months of the pandemic is that many more of the infected patients are symptomatic, or are seriously ill. Nationwide, there are said to be 110 Covid-19 patients in ICU, and eight are in ventilators, all of them in Bagmati Province.
Although the numbers are alarming, some public health experts stress that the rise in cases may be related to the fact that the over 13,000 PCR tests in the last 24 hours was the highest daily rate so far. It could also be that results of some of the 3,000 swab samples from earlier this week that could not be tested because machines were out of order, could have bunched up on Tuesday.
Either way, they say the restriction in movement is the government’s desperate attempt to bring the rising numbers under control. The government also appears to have been prompted to declare lockdowns in view of Tij and other festivals in the coming week.
The number of seriously ill patients prompted the government this week to order private hospitals in Kathmandu to set aside 20% of their beds for coronavirus treatment wards. However, few of the hospitals have complied, saying this would lead to mixing of patients and may actually spread the disease even more. They have urged that the government designate one big hospital just for Covid-19 patients.
On Monday night, the Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee of the government put on hold the next phase of repatriation flights that was supposed to bring home 7,000 workers from Gulf and other Asian countries by 31 August. There are still about 250,000 overseas Nepali workers who have registered with embassies to return and have been waiting for over five months. They may have to wait some more time.
The restrictions in Kathmandu Valley means that no government, private or public transport will be allowed on the streets. However, food distribution, health services and security vehicles will be allowed. Pedestrians will also not be allowed into the streets except at specified times in the morning to buy provisions.