Covid in Nepal: Third wave likely to start soon, but the new govt has no assertive plan to control it

The country with over 30 million population is facing a rapid surge in Covid-19 infections as the daily cases hover around 4,000

Nepal currently has 6,105 active cases. (File photo/NL Today)

Ashim Neupane

  • Read Time 5 min.

Kathmandu: In April 2021, Nepal’s government–then led by KP Sharma Oli–had declared that the country’s health system was not able to manage the Covid situation.

Four months down the line, the new government is at the helm but the situation has not changed much on the ground. Hospitals are not upgraded. Foreign donations are not managed properly. Public health has not been the priority issue of the ruling coalition. 

Health experts worry that the worst may be yet to come as around 4,000 infections have been recorded in a single day and hospitals are already overwhelmed. 

Politics over public health

After gaining the vote of confidence, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on June 19 claimed the utmost priority of the government was vaccination and combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, more than three weeks since he took office, there have been no tangible concerted efforts from the government towards saving the people from the pandemic. Even though the number of Covid-19 cases are increasing, by thousands lately, and a huge challenge of vaccination remains, PM Deuba is yet to appoint the Minister for Health and Population at this crucial time.     

Addressing the House of Representatives, Deuba had outlined the three topmost priorities of his government: “Vaccine, vaccine and vaccine.”

But as things stand, the government has neither been successful in combating the pandemic, nor been able to vaccinate the people at the earliest. 

Prime Minister Deuba is busy disseminating videos that shower excessive praises on him, projecting himself as the statesman, earning him criticism in the public sphere.

And amid this serious public health crisis, PM Deuba has kept the Health Ministry leaderless. The country has no full cabinet minister to safeguard public health.

Soon after taking oath of office PM Deuba appointed four cabinet ministers. None of them was the health minister, which is what the country and the people needed most of all. “Not appointing the Health Minister even at this critical time is the indication that the government is not serious about battling the pandemic,” political commentator Taranath Dahal told Nepal Live Today.

Even as questions were being raised on PM Deuba for failing to appoint the Health Minister, he appointed Umesh Shrestha, a controversial figure, as the State Minister for Health.

Shrestha, a private education business tycoon, is a Member of Parliament under the proportional representation system from the Nepali Congress. Shrestha’s appointment as the State Minister for Health raised many eyebrows.

“At this difficult time of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Population needs a full minister to handle all the responsibility. Giving the responsibility of a responsible ministry to a State Minister shows the government’s lack of seriousness,” said Dahal.

According to Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, the Ministry of Health and Population has been affected by party politics even at this crucial time. “A responsible full minister in the Ministry will definitely be helpful in battling the pandemic. However, the government is ignoring the fact that Nepal is still at high risk,” he said.

What the numbers say

In the meantime, the number of Covid-19 cases has been rising steadily in the last few days. On Thursday, Nepal saw a total of 3,938 cases, with 37 deaths.

The Kathmandu Valley alone recorded 1,279 new cases. Of them, 908 were detected in Kathmandu, 165 in Bhaktapur, and 206 in Lalitpur.

The number had dropped to almost 1,500 cases a day when the government started easing the lockdown gradually. However, the recent spike in the number of cases is again a worry for the authorities concerned.

The Covid-19 Crisis Management Center (CCMC)–formed to make strategies and implement them to battle against the pandemic–is scrambling as the number of patients in the hospital has suddenly seen a rise.

“The number of patients has seen a sudden rise in hospitals in the Valley. However, even if CCMC–as a concerned body–mulls a lockdown to curb the spread, the major challenge is the effectiveness and the implementation,” said Balananda Sharma, coordinator of the CCMC.

When asked if the CCMC is analyzing the situation to suggest lockdown measures to the government, Sharma said, “We are working on a ‘smart lockdown’ model by categorizing Covid-19-hit areas. But again, the challenge is the implementation. “In foreign countries, the government provides relief materials for needy people during lockdowns. But here, if the government fails to address the problems of the needy, the lockdown will again not be effective.”  

Nepal government has been easing the prohibitory orders in a phase-wise manner. However, the situation in the Kathmandu Valley shows neither the authorities concerned are seriously monitoring the lockdown nor the general public and businesses are following the proper health safety protocols. 

People throng a marketplace in Kathmandu. (File photo)

“The number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals has seen a sharp rise in the last 10 days. After the government eased the lockdown, there was no proper monitoring by the authorities concerned. This led the cases to go up,” said virologist Sher Bahadur Pun.

On Thursday, Nepal Live Today talked to a few representatives from government hospitals in the Valley about the Covid-19 situation. They reported that there is a significant rise in the number of new admissions, and the situation might get worse if the flow of patients continues rising at the same rate.

For example, Teku Hospital–the only infectious disease hospital in the Kathmandu Valley–is almost full of patients already. The situation is quite similar in major government hospitals like Patan Hospital, Teaching Hospital, and Armed Police Force Hospital.  

According to Marasini, the number of patients has already started to increase in hospitals. “There have been a few tests. The government needs to be serious, otherwise the consequences will be more devastating than the second wave,” he added. 

Negligence continues

Cases are rising and the situation is alarming, but people continue to flout Covid-19 protocols.

The situation of public transportation is awful. Public vehicles are carrying passengers without observing health safety protocols. Even though the Traffic Police is continuously monitoring the situation, public vehicles have not stopped flouting the rules.

On Thursday alone, the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division booked 317 vehicles for flouting Covid-19 protocols. “Even though the Division has been booking the violators, public vehicles have not stopped flouting rules. Those flouting the rules are booked by the traffic police for a whole day,” said Superintendent of Police Sanjib Sharma Das, who is the spokesperson for the Division.

“Even though we are continuously monitoring the situation, public vehicles are flouting rules. So passengers themselves should be cautious,” he added.

Third wave starts

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Samir Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry, said that there is an indication of the start of the third wave in Nepal.

“Lately, the number of cases has increased, so have the patients in hospitals,” Adhikari said. “This indicates that a third wave might have already started in Nepal.”