In recent days, Nepal has witnessed a steady rise in the number of people being infected by the coronavirus. After the government lifted the lockdown that was imposed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 most offices and businesses opened up and people went about their daily lives in a normal manner. Shops and public transportation again started getting crowded and some schools also resumed physical classes.
However, with the number of infections rising, the government has started issuing restriction orders. Schools have been asked to stop physical classes and hotels too have been ordered to close down by 8 pm. So much so, the District Administration Office in Nepalgunj has even imposed a week-long lockdown in the sub-metropolis since midnight on April 20.
But the question remains as to whether these restrictions will help in curtailing the spread of the virus. Restrictions can be imposed by the government, however if people do not follow the health safety guidelines then the situation could worsen in Nepal.
The government has issued an order asking restaurants to open their businesses at 8 am and close down by 8 pm, and all the night clubs have been ordered to close down. While some may believe that such restrictions are better than the country being placed under full lockdown, there are a few who are sceptical about whether the new protocols will be effective.
The previous months-long lockdown literally created an economic havoc with many businesses having to shut shop permanently and thousands losing their jobs. In fact, data from the National Planning Commission reveals that the lockdown pushed an additional 12 lakh Nepalis below the poverty line, and the number now stands at 68 lakh. People who earn less than $1.90 or Rs 222 per day are classified as those living below the poverty line.
And the sector that was hit really hard not only globally but in Nepal too was tourism and hospitality. With business in hotels and restaurants just about getting back to normal most involved in the sector are apprehensive about the repercussions that the new restrictions are going to create.
Naveen Saru, who owns Pho 99, a Vietnamese restaurant in Kathmandu, says, “We are following all the necessary safety protocols and our staff too have already received their first dose of the COVID vaccine but when the government issues restriction orders then it is natural for customers to get scared.”
However, he adds that the restriction orders are better than having a complete lockdown. “We have to pay the rent, provide salaries to our staff and when there are no customers then there is nothing much we can do to survive,” Saru shares. “Moreover, many in our industry have also taken loans from banks and interests need to be paid.”
Meanwhile, Tasneem Shahani, owner of Tasneem’s Kings Kitchen, emphasises on how we are all in this together. She says, “The rules will affect the business a lot but we are still trying to run our restaurant. It is going to be a hassle but we are providing delivery and take-away services. No matter what, we all have to follow the rules during times like this.”
But what about those restaurants that do not have the delivery service in place?
Santosh Timalsina, manager of La Casita, a Spanish restaurant, says, “We are popular not only for our food but the view of the Boudhanath Stupa. Most of our regular customers come not only for the food but for the overall dining experience that we offer.” So, the latest restriction orders will hurt business, he adds.
“What is even worse is that we do not have a provision for delivery services,” Timalsina shares. He adds, what’s even more absurd with the new restriction order is that it looks like as though the coronavirus is going to spread only after 8 pm. “Instead of completely restricting business operations during certain hours the government should focus more on strictly imposing the mandatory health precautions,” he states.
Aashika Shrestha, managing director of Pan Asian, questions, “Is the new rule really effective? It is not like we are not following the safety protocols, but I think the government must find a better way to deal with the spread of coronavirus. As a fine dining restaurant, we are affected the most and delivering food is not the same. It may affect the quality of our food. And with the sales decreasing, we may have to lay off some of our staff.”
Yes, the number of people infected with COVID-19 is rising but will just restrictions or a lockdown really help allay the situation? Could businesses still be allowed to operate albeit with some precautions? These questions need to be answered and answered quick by the concerned authorities because if not of the coronavirus the vulnerable people will certainly die of hunger.