The entire country will go on a lockdown for a week starting 6am on Tuesday, amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19.
A meeting of the high-level committee for the prevention and control of Covid-19, led by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, took the decision on Monday evening, hours after a second coronavirus case was confirmed.
Prabhat Katuwal, a personal aide to Pokhrel, confirmed that there will be a nationwide lockdown from Tuesday morning.
“Mobility of people, except for emergencies, will be halted,” Katuwal told the Post.
The Ministry of Health said on Monday afternoon that a 19-year-old Nepali student who had returned from France via Qatar tested positive for Covid-19.
“We have decided to go for a lockdown from 6am Tuesday for a week,” said Bhanubhakta Dhakal, minister for health and population, who is a member of the high-level committee.
In an eight-point order released by the committee, all public movement outside of the home, except to seek medical attention or purchase essential foodstuff, has been prohibited. All public and private vehicles, except for those with prior permission, those belonging to security forces and those for health workers, are also forbidden from the streets.
“People can come out of their homes to buy essentials as shops selling essential goods will remain open,” Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali told the Post. “A specific time has not been allocated as that will cause crowds at the stores.”
Despite Gyawali’s assurances, most shops are likely to remain closed as shopkeepers too need to transport their goods and get to their stores.
For those who suspect they might have Covid-19, the government has formed a Patient Receiving Team under the leadership of the home minister to transport such suspected patients to the hospital, said Gyawali. A rescue team visit can be arranged via the nearest police station or the Health Ministry.
All flights have also been suspended, except those of security forces. Private industries, except for those involved in medicine and medical equipment, foodstuff, drinking water, milk and fuel, will have to send their employees on leave.
Anyone defying the government order will be booked under the Infectious Disease Control Act. According to the Act, violators are liable for a jail term of a month or a Rs100 fine, or with both.
All government services, except those related to daily essentials, will be closed and government officials kept on alert for emergencies.
The eight-point order, however, does not explicitly list the media or press as an essential service that will be allowed to stay open. As per the Nepal Gazette, the media and press are categorised as essential services. Point No. 4 includes information and communication services, but does not explicitly say ‘the media or press’.
At least two ministers in the Oli administration had told the Post that a decision for a complete lockdown was underway.
Speaking at a parliamentary committee on Sunday, Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Lekhraj Bhatta had said that the government was “studying the Chinese model” to control the spread of the virus.
After the rapid spread of the coronavirus in late December in Wuhan, China had enforced a complete lockdown, restricting the movements of more than 30 million people. That measure, however, was ultimately hailed as an effective measure in preventing the spread of Covid-19.
“The government was saying that the country would go for a lockdown if the situation deteriorated,” said Health Minister Dhakal. “That time has come.”