Second wave of Covid exposes glaring failure of local levels, prohibitory orders alone won’t help, say health experts

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Nepal is battling the deadly second wave of the Covid-19, but with little preparedness and seemingly no learnings from the first wave.  Experts say the situation would have been less terrible if local governments were involved in Covid response initiatives such as increasing the number of tests, managing cross-border movement with India, creating more quarantine centers and ensuring compliance to Covid protocols. 

The government remained indifferent for long while the Covid cases were spreading at the community level. On Monday,  Covid-19 Crisis Management Center authorized local administrations to take measures to contain the second wave of coronavirus. Following the decision, Chief District Officers (CDOs) of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur decided to enforce prohibitory orders starting April 29, Thursday. As per the decision, vehicular movement will be restricted and only emergency service vehicles will be allowed to operate from Thursday. The local administrations of other districts with large numbers of covid cases will likely follow suit. 

But health experts have termed the decision as an easy tactic of the government. “We didn’t focus on border points which caused massive community spread. The mistake we made last time was we didn’t involve the local governments in implementation. The same pattern has been followed this time as well,” said  Dr Samir Mani Dixit, scientist and public health expert. 

“Wards and palikas should have identified, monitored and tested people coming from India before they entered the community,” he said, adding,  “Lockdown and prohibitory order is the easy tactic of the government. Prohibitory order after the spread of the coronavirus is not effective and of much help. The government should primarily focus on enforcing safety protocols.”

Notably, as there is no restriction on the cross-border mobility of people along the southern plains, a number of Nepalis working in India have been coming to Nepal without proper screening. Besides, domestic as well as international flights are operating as usual from Kathmandu.

The government seems to have been alarmed about the second wave of the virus only after the cases started to soar across the country. Until recently, the government ministers themselves were organizing the public gatherings, with little compliance to safety protocols. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli on Saturday inaugurated Dharahara amid a huge crowd, where the social distancing protocol was completely flouted.

There is no restriction on the cross-border mobility of people along the southern plains, a number of Nepalis working in India have been coming to Nepal without proper screening.

Dr Dixit, however, says that the government alone should not be blamed for the fast spread of the second wave. “People are also responsible. People are 70 percent responsible and the government 30 percent,” he said.

Coronavirus is fast spreading in Kathmandu Valley, which witnessed as many as 1,912 new cases on Monday. The total new cases in the country crossed 3,442 on the same day. 

“As a matter of fact, almost everybody was flouting safety measures. The government as well as the people. Neither did the government care about the consequences, nor the general public,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the clinical research unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Kathmandu.

According to him, travel restrictions should not go long. “During the prohibition period, both the government and the people need to play the role to curb the spread of the pandemic,” he said. “The government should plan and execute the plan on a war footing to equip health facilities, increase testing, tracing, and isolating the infected people at the quarantines. It should adopt all possible public health safety measures,” said Dr Pun.

Having minimized the infection rates during the period of prohibition, the government should then check the free movement of people along the open borders, he said. “There should be a proper screening of people and quarantine facilities at the border areas, otherwise we will be back to square one,” he warned.