KATHMANDU – As Nepal went into a week-long lockdown on Tuesday to prevent the spread of COVID-19, thousands of daily wage earners across the country have been severely affected by the epidemic, while most of the small businesses in the country have been forced to shut down.
A high-level committee led by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel met on Monday night and decide to impose a strict lockdown, hours after a second coronavirus case was confirmed in Nepal.
The Ministry of Health had reported on Monday afternoon that a 19-year-old Nepali student, who had returned from France via Qatar, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Umesh Prasad Singh, the acting president of the Federation of Nepal Cottage and Small Industries, told EFE that around 90 percent of the small and medium enterprises have already downed their shutters after suffering massive losses due to the disease’s effects on the economy
“Most export businesses are on the verge of closure,” he said.
Sunil Shrestha, who has been running a handcrafted (lokta) paper business in Kathmandu for 17 years, told EFE he was running out of cash as sales were almost down to zero.
Shreshtha’s firm Shubham Handicraft exports around 80 percent of its products to Europe and the rest to the United States. However, the latest shipments have been held up in customs after Nepal canceled all international flights from Monday.
The entrepreneur said he had not been able to pay salaries to his nine employees.
People employed in irregular occupations who depend on daily income, have also been affected by the epidemic.
Sanjay BK, a rickshaw driver at Kathmandu’s tourist hotspot Thamel, said he had not been able to find many customers for the past couple of days.
“I didn’t earn a penny today,” said BK, who is the sole breadwinner of his family of four.
Tourism is the sector hit the hardest since the global pandemic broke out, with the government halting all on-arrival visas, suspending all flights and calling off the spring climbing and trekking expeditions including Mt Everest.
Tourist numbers have dried up in the Himalayan country where the sector contributes around 7.9 percent of the GDP and supports over a million jobs directly and indirectly.
Hari Tamang, a daily wage earner who loads rice sacks onto a van for a living in the nearby city of Bhaktapur, questioned the government’s lack of support during the crisis.
“Is the government supporting us? I don’t have work now,” Tamang told EFE, adding that he didn’t have money to feed his family of four.
Lama, a migrant laborer from the nearby Kavre district, said he used to earn around $10 a day and “that’s all gone now.”
Gunakar Bhatta, the spokesperson for Nepal Rastra Bank - the central bank of the country - said that they were studying the impact of COVID-19 on small and medium enterprises and the daily wagers.
“The government will provide relief through a one-window system as we are positive about providing support to small and medium enterprises,” he said.
On Tuesday, people’s movements were halted across the country except for emergencies.
In an eight-point order released by the high-level 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, have also been restricted from taking to the streets. All flights have been suspended, except those of security forces.
Private industries, except for the ones involved in medicine and medical equipment, foodstuff, drinking water, milk and fuel, will have to send their employees on leave, according to the government directives issued on Monday.