This is a national emergency. We need to deal with it as such

What is happening in India might happen in Nepal as well, and sooner than we expect.

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Suresh Sharma

  • Read Time 3 min.

The fear of the second wave of Covid-19 has brought immense anxiety to many of us. Lockdown has been seen as a significant deterrent to further spread of the second wave. As many countries around the world are in different stages of responding to the Covid-19 emergency, Nepal should learn lessons from these countries, from India in particular, in the context of exponential growth of this infectious disease and a great number of daily death tolls.

Top priority of the government should be to help the communities to put a stop to this threat before it is too late. If the ongoing threats are not tackled head on, we will have to face the terrible consequences and the country will face an unprecedented but predictable catastrophe. Hence, it is crucial to take up wise decisions and invest efforts to ensure that the vulnerable citizens are protected and looked after.

As the panic is rising people feel traumatized.  On Democracy Day, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli inaugurated the reconstructed ‘Dharahara’ amid a fearless crowd in Kathmandu while miles down the south, hospitals in New Delhi were struggling for oxygen, and Indian PM Narendra Modi and New Delhi Chief Minister Arbind Kejriwal were calling for immediate supply of oxygen, consoling their people, reassuring them that the government is there for them. Hospitals in Nepalgunj also raised an alarm of oxygen shortage and its mayor candidly said the provincial governments were not pulling up socks. A doctor at the Banke Hospital said she was helpless due to already scarce medical supplies.

It is obvious that Nepal’s health facilities are in no way comparable to those of India, which are sophisticated in every way, which is why Nepalis flock to Medanta at Noida for a guaranteed treatment of even minor ailments. We should admit the gaps in our system, and think about the possible risks and consequences of cross-border transmission.

It is essential to strengthen our primary health care systems at all levels immediately before the situation goes out of control.

Nepal does not have the requisite capacity to handle the situation if the pandemic becomes as widespread as in Indian cities. As the situation further worsens, we are sure to fail to enhance our capacity to produce additional resources overnight. But at least we can now plan for managing additional resources (from wherever possible) so that we do not have to suffer as much as the neighboring country in the south. 

The World Health Organization has suggested the strategic action and resource requirements to end the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.  It further says that each country should assess its risk and rapidly implement the necessary measures at the appropriate scale to reduce both Covid-19 transmission and economic, public and social impacts.

Therefore, it is essential to strengthening our primary health care systems at all levels immediately before the situation goes out of control. We failed to construct temporary Covid care hospitals while China had set an example by setting up such hospitals immediately after the outbreak in Wuhan last year.

New Delhi has called the second wave a ‘tsunami’, meaning that it is much more rampant than last year. Their court asked the Delhi government to arrange tankers for liquid oxygen amid shortage and Air India airlifted cryogenic tankers immediately from Singapore. The government in Nepal does not seem to be reaching out to any countries for support.

Last year, when the country went on lockdown mode, a lot had been said and discussed in webinars and op-ed columns regarding how the communities can be prepared for Covid response. We need to find ways to deal with the second wave with greater level of seriousness than last year, before the situation begins to deteriorate further. Of course, people—especially the daily wage earners and small businesses—are going to suffer hard. In that case, the government needs to plan relief measures.

If the situation in India is any guide, the second wave is spreading at an unprecedented magnitude. We need to take the situation really seriously, for what is happening in India might happen in Nepal as well, and sooner than we expect. Lockdown can be a circuit breaker. The government should also explore other measures to strengthen our infrastructures to ensure that infected people receive the treatment.

Governments at federal, provincial and local levels should take proactive measures and mobilize all public health agencies including national security organs in taking stringent steps over the next few weeks to curb virus spread. This is a national emergency. We need to deal with it as such.

Suresh Sharma is a former spokesperson of Nepal Army.