Kathmandu 10 June. Fed up by the government’s dilly-dallying over lifting the lockdown, and hard up for cash to pay the bills, store owners at New Road, Sundhara and Asan in downtown Kathmandu started opening their shops from Thursday, only to be shut down repeatedly by the police.
The delay in reaching a decision over unshackling the economy has spread confusion among the business community. The government should slacken the lockdown restrictions by setting safety protocols, experts said.
The public has endured the stay-at-home order for more than two months, but the government has not come up with any plan to reopen economic activities gradually. This has forced merchants to defy the lockdown and pull up their shutters because they have to eat, experts said.
On Tuesday, a dispute arose between traders at Ranjana Mall, New Road and the police after they opened their shops. Dhiraj Shrestha, president of the Ranjana Traders Association, said they had planned to open their shops from 8 to 11 am by following safety protocols, but the police came and shut them down.
“Opening our businesses has become important as we are in a financial crisis. We have to make payments to our suppliers and repay bank loans,” he said. Shrestha said they would not open their shops on Wednesday unless the government comes up with a decision.
Economist Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel said the government should have reached a decision on easing the lockdown and prepared a post-lockdown strategy 15 days ago. People have patiently spent more than 70 days confined to their homes, he added.
“If not decided on time, its outcome will be a danger as the number of Covid-19 patients is increasing by the hundreds daily,” he said. “It is the government’s responsibility to come up with a guideline and that too immediately.”
People barely managed to survive on their savings without any income for two months, but now they are in grave difficulty to provide for their families. Entrepreneurs are anxious to reopen their businesses, and it is high time the government came up with a protocol to loosen the lockdown, Pokhrel said.
As the government failed to make timely plans, impatient traders began to reopen their stores, leading to arguments with the police. This is a sign of the government’s weakness, he said.
The government should focus on preventing the spread of Covid-19 and at the same time reopening economic activities gradually.
Fixing time slots according to the nature of the business, and allowing shops to open on alternate days by following strict safety measures can be a solution, said experts.
The local administrations of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur recommended to the government to relax the lockdown for traders. The chief district officers of the three districts in Kathmandu Valley held an emergency meeting to discuss ways to remove the restrictions after traders began opening their shops on Thursday.
Jeetendra Dangol, associate professor at Public Youth Campus, said that closing down economic activities for a long time will increase the poverty level in a country like Nepal. Gradual reopening will not only help to revive the economy but also slow down deepening poverty, he said.
Coordination between the three levels of government is important to reopen businesses on a priority basis so that traders observe safety precautions and maintain social distancing.
The government has not yet come up with a concrete plan to slacken the lockdown despite complaints about loss of business, incomes and even lives due to the harsh restrictions on public movement.