In an effort to combat COVID-19, the chief district officers (CDO) of Kathmandu Valley, in addition to the prohibition of non-essential services, decided to prohibit street vending and limit the opening time of grocery stores to 9:00 A.M. The intention behind such a move was to break the chain of spread by limiting human-to-human contact.
However, the outcome of the policy is nowhere near the intended result. The imposition of such a policy implies that all the people in Kathmandu Valley need to shop for groceries within a limited time slot of 2-3 hours. Additionally, prohibition on street vending has left people with limited options to shop. This has resulted in over-crowding of stores, especially departmental stores, making it impossible for people to socially distance themselves from one another. Contrary to the objective, this in itself can expose people to greater risk of COVID-19 transmission. If the time limitation and ban on street vending were to be removed, rational individuals, for the safety of themselves and their family, would choose to shop at the time and place where social distance could be maintained.
The Nepalese people have time and again experienced similar difficulties due to ad-hoc policies. A classic example of this would be the sudden imposition of nationwide lockdown and travel restriction in March 2020 without prior notice to the citizens. It resulted in a catastrophic situation as thousands of people traveled by foot for numerous days to reach home. While the goal of travel restriction was to protect the lives of citizens from COVID-19, the consequence it generated instead took a few.
This incident offered a vital lesson for the policy-makers – poor policy choices and ad-hoc restrictions can indeed have adverse implications and can hurt the very people that the policies aim to protect. Despite this, after the advent of the second wave of COVID-19 the policymakers are repeating the same mistakes. Undoubtedly, with the imposition of superfluous policies, the policymakers are acting as tricksters to assure general people that informed and imperative actions are being taken to combat COVID-19, whilst the reality is completely different. This kind of failure alludes to the policymakers’ lack of competence and accountability towards general citizens.
Given the seriousness of the time, a continuation of poor policy choices on part of policymakers could lead Nepal towards a deeper health crisis. It is high time that the policy-makers understand that these are critical times and craft policies with extreme caution. Repeating the mistake of judging policies by the asserted intentions rather than the actual consequence can be detrimental.