Government cannot wash its hands of Covid-19. People need the government for their safety now more than ever before in recent history.
The Ministry of Health and Population on Friday issued a statement of resignation. It said Covid-19 is spreading like wildfire in 22 districts of the country and Nepal’s health system is no longer able to take in Covid patients and provide treatment. It announced that the hospital beds are not available for the patients, so people need to take care of themselves. The message was simple and clear: Nepal’s health system cannot contain the pandemic of this scale. The government cannot do anything, no matter how many people fall ill or even die.
Needless to say, we all are to be blamed, to some extent. General public’s tendency to not follow safety protocols (or to take such protocols seriously only when prohibitory orders are enforced, as is the case now) is responsible for rising cases, which is why people from all walks of life must act responsibly to flatten the curve. But how can the government send the message that it cannot do anything? How can the government, which needs to reassure people that the government will stand by them, will do all it can to save lives, be so irresponsible and give up on its primary duty to save lives? The message of the Health Ministry has only raised public panic.
Granted that the health system has been overwhelmed and that hospitals have no beds, but should not the government have plan B during the time of national health emergency we are going through currently? Should not the government reassure that it is difficult but the government is doing all it can to save lives?
Truth be told. The government of KP Sharma Oli, including the PM himself, has not taken Covid threat seriously since the pandemic started last year. When the pandemic was taking toll across the world, including in neighboring India, PM Oli was joking about the disease, spreading wrong information and prescribing scientifically unproven cures. He told us coronavirus is like a normal flu, you can sneeze it away, it can be cured by simple turmeric water and guava leaves, and other insensible suggestions. The only moment the government seemed responsible about Covid prevention was when it procured vaccines from neighboring countries and started the vaccination drive. Only if this praiseworthy initiative had been expedited and at least half of the total population vaccinated, we would probably be in a less threatening situation now.
Understandably, this is a global crisis. Even the most resourceful countries in the world have not been able to defeat the pandemic. Last year, we were caught off guard. But we had time to prepare and proactively respond. We could increase ICU beds and ventilators in hospitals, we could build one large Covid designated hospital in the capital or a city in the plains, even now a temporary treatment center can be set up in Tudikhel. We could have asked neighboring countries and donors for assistance. We could have found a way. The government had a lot of time and resources (resources could be generated) at its disposal. We are in this life and-death situation because the focus of the government in the last one year has rarely been public health and public welfare. The government failed in preparedness and crisis management. It was invested only in saving the coalition, even by foul means, by releasing the crime suspects for political bargain, for example.
It is during the times of crisis that the people look up to the government to ensure their safety. This is why our laws like the Infectious Disease Act (1964) have mandated the government to take necessary action to root out or prevent the infectious disease and to make necessary arrangements in order to root out or prevent any infectious disease. It is during the times of crisis that the government should deliver. The height of irresponsibility with which—the Health Ministry’s statement reflects nothing less—the government has communicated its dereliction of duty to the people during the times of extreme crisis will be noted by all. The government had time and resources. Only if the government head and its ministers had been serious enough.