The unprecedented Covid-19 second wave is raging across Nepal like a wildfire, already stretching the country’s health system to breaking point, and taking a heavy toll on the livelihood and wellbeing.
Yet, experts expect the situation to worsen significantly in the days to come before it gets any better. Across Nepal, including the capital, Kathmandu, hospital beds, access to tests, medicines including lifesaving oxygen have become virtually impossible to find, more so for the helpless people from lower economic background. The situation in Kathmandu perhaps reflects the much dire situation in the rest of the country. When the Ministry of Health and Population on Thursday issued an official statement saying ‘the situation is unmanageable’, the government of CPN-UML led by Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli essentially asked people to fend for themselves. And so, the people of Nepal have been abandoned by their government in the biggest, and a much more unmanageable crisis, since the 2015 earthquake.
While it is generally accepted that a positive percent of five is “too high,” on Sunday, Nepal recorded almost 43 percent, which too is acknowledged to be an undercount.
As the global community watches in horror the continuing Covid-19 tragedies in India, it must take note of what’s happening across the border in Nepal, where the virus has been spreading at a far greater rate in April than in India, and so far in May. Indeed, it’s time for the global community to proactively come together and pre-empt in Nepal what has happened in India.
Crowds and consequences
The authorities in Nepal enforced lockdown from April 29 and have asked the public as well political parties to ensure compliance of safety protocols. But if there was anything the political parties, including the governing party, least cared about until a fortnight ago, it would be the safety protocols.
Political gatherings and rallies, cultural and religious events and influx of citizens to the country without adequate health screening—all these were common until just a week ago. In fact, festivals and weddings have continued even during the lockdown. The government, political parties, and even the people deserve blame for dragging the country to this point.
If there was anything the political parties, including the governing party, least cared about until a fortnight ago, it would be the safety protocols.
Apart from the rallies organized by the ruling and opposition parties, cultural and religious activities with large number of people also helped spread the infection fast. Millions of Nepalis, including former King Gyanendra Shah thronged Mahakumbh Mela in India. After their return, Shah and his wife Komal Shah have been hospitalized for Covid-19 treatment. In a repeat of last year’s events, workers who returned from India have reunited with their respective communities without testing and screening. Only this time, the virus has become more resilient and the public and government, more lax.
The result has been disastrous. The infection has reached essentially every community from plains to the hills and mountains.
Even medical staff, who have themselves tested positive, are having to serve patients. In Bheri, one of the mid-western districts of Nepal, a doctor was seen providing treatment while taking saline (sodium chloride) injection. Situations in other hospitals are not different. Practically, Nepal is in an emergency.
What the data says
All indicators show Covid-19 has spread far and wide in Nepal. India has recently ramped up its daily testing and has reached around 130 tests per 100,000 people returning around 20 percent positive results. In Nepal, the latest testing rates are around 45 per 100,000 people and a positivity rate is fast crossing 40 percent. This is very alarming. Almost all of the 87 labs—51 government and 36 private—that conduct tests are giving a double-digit positive percentage of the total tests conducted. In more than 15 labs, the percentage is more than 50 in recent weeks.
Province-wise, all provinces have a seven-day percent positive average of more than 20 percent, some exceeding even 60 percent. This average is around 25 percent for Kathmandu valley and more than 40 percent for the rest of the country. Even until the end of March the 7-day rolling average positive cases inside the valley was three percent and 6.6 percent in the rest of the country and and it shows how rapidly the situation as turned into an emergency. The current returns are significantly higher than at any time since the pandemic began.
The infection has reached essentially every community from plains to the hills and mountains. Practically, Nepal is in an emergency.
The speed at which Covid is spreading is deeply worrying. Daily positive cases have almost touched all-time high bar.On May 2, the country recorded 7,211 cases (7137 PCR tests and 74 antigen tests) out of total 16,770 tests making the total positivity rate more than 43 percent with 27 deaths, really alarming for the country of our population size. Looking at the dynamics of the spread in Nepal and considering the porous border we share with India, we are at a very critical juncture already.
Time to help Nepal
Nepal needs humanitarian assistance including material support to manage the Covid crisis. On May 1, American ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry, announced that the US government is donating additional 8.5 million dollars to Nepal as a relief assistance to help fight Covid-19 and announced that the US is in solidarity with Nepal at this time.
Similarly, China has pledged to provide 5 million RMB to complement national efforts in fighting against Covid-19, a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry reads.
Nepali people are in dire need of medicines and medical equipment such as ventilators, oxygen cylinders, and equipment required for intensive care of Covid-19 patients.
These pledges will mean little if they don’t materialize urgently into action that Nepali people can feel within days to come. The essence of the assistance should be to contain the current situation rather than to address the crisis the current situation will invite. This is why instead of money, Nepali people are in dire need of medicines and medical equipment such as ventilators, oxygen cylinders, and equipment required for intensive care of Covid-19 patients.
This is a matter of trying to avert a severe humanitarian crisis that is looming, or cleaning up the mess after the crisis is fully unleashed and taken its deadly toll. We hope the global community chooses the path of aversion.