Recently, a photo of a man, with a cooking gas cylinder beside him, being punished by a police officer was widely shared and reacted upon. In response to this, the Nepal Police Headquarters published an official statement and said that it would investigate and take serious note of the concerns raised regarding the photo.
While there may have been a justified reason to do so and even when the statement by the police was put, the reactions of people were mixed. This is one of the many instances where the police have punished the lockdown violators, who have gone against the order of practicing social distancing, within the ten days of the official lockdown announced by the government.
In another instance, the news about the death of a 52-year-old woman after seeking treatment at four different hospitals in a day on suspicions of being a Covid-19 case, presents another gruelling picture of the failure of the healthcare system.
The concerning thing within these situations that have been arising each day is that it pushes the citizens to further believe that not trusting the government is, after all, the right thing. Years of failure of creating an enabling environment by the government has created a situation of lack of trust in the government and the belief of how things will get worse as pushed by the media, resulting in social unrest.
Usually, when something like war, which carries with it the dangers of lives of thousands and millions of people, takes place, the people at war know who to fight and are certain that it will end sooner or later. However, in the midst of the spread of #covid19, we do not who the enemy is. It’s unrecognizable when it will end as nobody can tell for certain when a vaccine will be developed and distributed to countries worldwide. Amidst this, the possibility of unknown cases still not being reported in Nepal and the threat that it carries when explored has created a situation of growing anxiety among people.
Currently, the country has halted its production, import, export, travels, businesses and schools in order to curb the spread of the virus and prevent people from getting infected. Today marks the 11th day of the lockdown, which started from March 24 and has been extended till April 8. Even before the lockdown was officially imposed in Nepal, the anticipation about ‘a big move’ by the government was expected. It was considered necessary even, which is why no signs of protests or huge revolts have occurred up until now. But, a lockdown for a long time is not an option. The academic and mental well-being of children who are now not in schools and are enjoying their free time, the businesses that are disrupted or are working from home and the elderly who like to talk a short walk for refreshment need a pledge from the state. They are depending on the instructions from the government and are carefully watching every move in order to feel safer.
However, each day presents a new case of a weak and corrupt system, fueling the social unrest even more. When the government purchased the testing kits and Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) from China, and distributed it to all the seven provinces, it provided an assurance that more rapid tests would be possible and more cases could be explored. However, the usual news about reports of corruption in the now-scrapped purchase of medical supplies from China was brought up. As of now, various controversies have erupted over the medical equipment purchases regarding high costs and concerns over standards. In light of these centuries-old issues of political protection for the wrong-doings and corruption, especially at a time like this of the outbreak, it only propels the already growing anxiety among the citizens.
Dealing with the situation of unrest
The situation created due to the outbreak of the pandemic is so profound and deeply disturbing that people have been facing chaos in their mental health mostly because there simply is no way that a person can stay idle from the talks of the coronavirus. Every news portal, email, Facebook/ Instagram/ Twitter/ Linkedin post or meme are pushing the updates on corona and pressing on the deeply unpredictable and uncertain results that come with it. However, because the news that are flooding our social media sites are not synchronized, the citizens are in a state of wary.
Although a majority of the population is abiding by the lockdown currently, the same won’t be the case a few months from now if the government does not provide an economic plan and assurance laying down strategies for the recovery that is needed. Currently, volunteering for the lockdown is the option that we have but halting economic activities cannot be a move forward as people need to go back on with their lives, earn their share of income and feel at ease of being a part of a growing economy again. For instance, the economies such as that of South Korea, where a lockdown has not been imposed and instead technology has been used to track, trace and offer tests have proved helpful. People are made alert through text messages and quick monitoring tools are used. New innovation has helped people there to not fall into the fear of a lockdown, as it cannot be workable in a short while. Similar actions have to be taken here as well so that social unrest among the people and the economic recovery can both be stabilized.
It is the responsibility of the government to make each of its tiers capable and proactive in terms of disseminating reliable information considering the level of social unrest among the population. Provincial and local levels should have their websites updated with reliable data and news about the state of the pandemic. Up to date information about numbers as well as about ways of dealing with anxiety has to be communicated. The World Health Organization (WHO) has come up with a series of messages and placed it on their website supporting the well-being of the public. Similar actions can be taken in Nepal too, wherein the local government has to consistently spread messages in local language for people to understand and internalize and not fall as a victim of unreliable news as it will only add to the anxiety. The government has to instill responsiveness, stability and assurance to tackle the social unrest amidst COVID-19.
Nasala Maharjan is a Bachelor's in Business Administration (BBA Honors) graduate from Kathmandu University with a major in Finance. She is mostly interested in researching and writing about economic development and contemporary issues in Nepal. She joined Nepal Economic Forum (NEF) as a Research Fellow in 2019 and is currently working as an aspiring beed at beed management.