Nepal unintentionally caricatures corona-curfews

Dateline Kathmandu:

Even though the lockdown is still in effect with only designated economic activities allowed, people in Kathmandu have been venturing out creating traffic jams at police checkpoints at major intersections in the capital on Sunday.

The Nepali Times then goes on to summarize the relevant traffic curfew rules:

  • Essential government workers can be on the road from 9-10 AM and 5-6 PM.
  • Essential private-sector workers can be on the road from 9-10 AM and 3:30-5 PM.
  • Vehicles carrying food and water must be off the road by 10 AM.
  • Food trucks (the previous rule is probably meant for people going out for groceries) can be on the road from 4-10 AM. Realistically, though, since the workers at businesses receiving food deliveries aren’t allowed to go to work before 9, those food deliveries are most likely to be clustered between 9 and 10 AM.

Guess what the roads look like at 10 AM.

Kathmandu Traffic Jam - Manish Paudel

This is the explanation we’re given:

Confusion over who is allowed and at what times created the traffic jam at the intersections.

It seems more likely that forcing almost everyone who’s allowed on the road to be on the road in the same hour of the morning jams up the roads in the morning, especially when the police are creating bottlenecks “at major intersections.”

Sure, only “essential” traffic is allowed, but Kathmandu is still a city of millions and a center for those parts of Nepali society (like agricultural trade and health care) that can’t be safely locked down. “Essential” traffic is still a lot of traffic, as we can see.


This is how all disease curfews work. It’s an extreme example, to be sure – others I’ve seen limit people to daytime travel or to travel during designated business hours, or limiting how late businesses can stay open – but curfews force all the people who still have to leave their homes to stop spacing out their activities through the day and jam up together in close proximity.

I have yet to see anything even remotely resembling a convincing explanation of how this is meant to keep people from getting sick. It’s possible that some rulers are taking “sunlight is the best disinfectant” too literally and think the virus is more virulent at night. It’s more likely, though, that it’s simply a demonstration of power. “This is a taste of how much we can restrict your activities. Feel it. Know it in your bones. All the person-to-person interactions you normally indulge in? We can stop those whenever we want, wherever we want, and dole them back out to you at whatever pace we want. Now kneel.

Maybe that isn’t a conscious urge on their part, and maybe I’m reading too much into things like this. I hope I’m wrong… but I doubt it.

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