The Coronavirus Control and Management Committee (CCMC) is finalising a plan to lift the lockdown in five stages when the latest extension expires on 14 June after nearly three months. This comes as many businesses started defying lockdown rules in the past week, and increasing calls for the restrictions to be eased.
Following three days of deliberations over the weekend, the committee headed by Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel is taking the plan to completely lift the lockdown in phases over the next two-and-half months to the Cabinet this week.
Earlier, the committee had planned a 6-stage opening up over three months, but has reduced it to five phases with each lasting a fortnight. The first stage will lay down the guidelines for partially opening businesses and services in the dairy and agriculture sectors.
“The strategy will be presented to the Cabinet on Wednesday, and will go into effect starting 15 June,” a source in the Committee told Nepali Times.
Monitoring and implementation of the strategy is being handed over to local governments, people’s representatives, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force. The Nepal Army will also be on standby if needed.
Under this strategy, within the first fortnight after 15 June, department stores, corner provision shops, gas depots and drinking water supplies will be eased. Restaurants will be allowed home delivery within their locality, and construction activities can resume, as well as banking services with limited staff and physical distancing measures in place.
Although some of these facilities have already been opened, the new element in the plan is the re-starting of domestic flights with 40% occupancy from next week. Regular international flights are on hold till 1 July.
All medical services and hospitals will be allowed to open in the first stage while maintaining distance, but only after all health care staff are tested and quarantined if necessary. Government offices and the private sector can start opening, and newspapers will be allowed to distribute.
The conduct of the first stage will be evaluated, and the next phase will go into effect with necessary tweaking. Private vehicles will be allowed back partially in the second fortnight, and some scheduled international flights will be allowed to resume.
The second stage will also permit small industries and factories to re-open but only after staff are tested and required to stay and eat in the premises.
The third stage will let all stores to be fully open, transport for essential services will be allowed back on the streets and more private transport allowed in cities with odd-even number plates and only allowed to travel within district boundaries.
Public transport will be allowed, but with only half the passenger capacity. Schools will be opened with precautions and distancing measures in place, and they can start admitting new students.
Also in the third stage, the government will designate districts on the basis of confirmed coronavirus cases and start implementing full opening in districts without cases. However, only six of Nepal’s 77 districts do not have confirmed cases.
In the fourth stage, which will go into effect in mid-August, cinemas, colleges, gyms, hotels, bars, and other business will be allowed to reopen, and all regular international flights that have been grounded since 22 March will be allowed to fly in and out of Kathmandu, according to the CCMC’s strategy.
The Committee also foresees challenges in enforcing the rules, and people ignoring the restrictions. There could also be a bigger influx of Nepalis at the Indian border or at Kathmandu airport than anticipated, with a shortage of medical personnel and test kits.
By mid-August, even if the country opens fully, Nepalis will be required to wear masks and maintain distancing in all public places and vehicles. Implementation will depend on the coronavirus caseload in Nepal, the source said.
Whether this strategy will be endorsed will now depend in the Cabinet. In the past, Prime Minister Oli has refused to go with the Committee’s plans for partial easing. How many of these new rules for each stage will be approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday also remains to be seen.