By Pankaj Thapa

On Tuesday, 25th May, 2021, the three District Administration Offices (DAOs) of the Kathmandu Valley announced a further one-week extension of the ongoing prohibitory orders.

Issuing a notice about the same, the DAOs said that department and convenience stores were to be shut down, while only fruits and vegetable, dairy, meat, drinking water and gas cylinder shops would be allowed to open until 9:00 a.m. for the next week.

Naturally, for many, the immediate question was – do we survive on vegetables, milk and meat for the next week?

Kathmandu CDO Kali Prasad Parajuli was quick to answer, “We have given the public two days to purchase food and ration materials. That should be enough.”

Here’s what happened in my neighborhood of some 10-12 households – all residents went out to purchase groceries today itself. In the previous two weeks, considering I have had plenty of time to observe from my room’s window, I had never seen all of them leave for grocery shopping on a single day.

One of my neighbors said that he knew the risks of crowding, but he also knew how bad the DAOs are in planning and communicating – and he feared that the announcement to shut department and convenience stores might stretch by more than a week, hence the need to head out and purchase essential groceries.

Grocery stores around my neighborhood were packed, as to what I was told – I couldn’t go out as I tested negative for Covid-19 only last night, in all probability that I contracted the virus while shopping for groceries two weeks ago when we could shop only till 9:00 a.m.

Serpentine queues at grocery stores as opposed to regular de-crowded shopping days force us to beg the question if the DAOs inadvertently encouraged crowding in their attempt to control the same.

The DAOs insist that they are ‘baffled’ that despite four weeks of lockdown, the number of new COVID cases isn’t abating – we wonder if they have considered that perhaps, they themselves are encouraging crowding?

During a lockdown, as to following international models – say for example, Australia – grocery and departmental stores are listed as “essential services”. They were allowed to open as per their regular hours, and households were asked to make one grocery run per day. They did not witness overcrowding.

In fact, a study suggested that many residents observed which timings of the day were the busiest and avoided that time to dodge congregation (Note: Not when the lockdown announcement was made, but once the lockdown was in effect).

Similarly, delivery services weren’t halted. Considering the whole objective of the lockdown is to discourage people from going outdoors, encouraging home delivery businesses during the lockdown made more sense to many countries.

Meanwhile in Kathmandu, businesses were initially asked to submit volumes of paperwork to get travel passes from the DAOs, which only privileged organizations with the influence to “pull strings” at the DAOs could manage.

And, now, they have been ordered to pull their shutters for the next week.

Now comes the final conundrum – a friend of mine lives abroad and his parents live here – they have contracted the virus and are isolating.

The friend reached out to me day before yesterday asking how he could get groceries and medicinal supplies delivered to his parents – I duly gave him a list of e-commerce companies.

Despite a huge gap for delivery date (of 4 to 5 days), he placed the order. His delivery date was scheduled for 29th May – services are to be halted on 28th May – he reached out to me again with the problem.

The only solution I could offer him was to organize a friend or a family member who lives nearby to do the grocery shopping – thereby again adding one more member to the crowd.