Nepal’s one week lockdown is supposed to go on till Tuesday 31 March, but it is likely to be extended till at least Nepali New Year on 13 April.
Although most people in the cities are staying home, there is growing worry about a prolonged shutdown leading to food shortages, economic hardship and even social unrest.
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There is also concern about the urban poor who depend on daily wages, and civil society has urged the state to quickly come up with a mechanism to distribute food or cash grants through local governments. Many Nepali migrant workers are stranded in the Gulf, Malaysia or Indian cities, and there is pressure on government from social media to allow them back.
With the country in lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, the Ministry of Health has decided to extend testing in Teku and also in Nepalganj, Pokhara and Dharan to those identified through contact tracing. As tests are expanded, the official total of those infected is expected to rise form the current three individuals.
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A meeting of the COVID-19 control committee headed by Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel met in a tent outdoors at Singha Darbar (pictured above) on Wednesday and decided to also allow foreign embassies to gather their stranded nationals in Kathmandu and to fly them out. There are an estimated 10,000 tourists stranded in Nepal.
There are said to be 120 foreign trekkers and climbers stuck in Lukla because they could not get down from the mountains before the lockdown went into effect on 24 March, and flights to Kathmandu were cancelled. Another 70 tourists stranded in Mustang are being escorted by bus to Pokhara.
There are 60 mainly French nationals also stuck in Pokhara and the embassy is trying to charter a plane to bring them to Kathmandu. The British and Australian embassies have assured their nationals they are working on a ferry flight to get them back home.
The Committee also decided to streamline the supply of essential commodities by not stopping delivery vehicles. It said the Tatopani and Rasuwa checkpoints on the China border would be open for cargo. While the border points with India are open, goods trucks are stuck because customs officials and clearance agents are staying home.
Meanwhile, police on Wednesday arrested the driver of a container truck in Birganj with 52 people whom he had charged Rs200 each to take them from Chitwan. No passenger vehicles and domestic flights have been allowed on the streets since the lockdown went into effect on Tuesday morning.