As of March 31, 2020, the death toll from COVID-19 has reached 38,749 with 801,061 infections confirmed in 200 countries and territories around the world, including the spread through two ships; nearly 172,317 people have recovered. Nepal hasn’t remained untouched by the pandemic, and the government hastily announced a nationwide lockdown to stop the virus from spreading. The government, however, seems to consider the basic principles of pandemic control in its strategy to combat the virus. Despite the low number of positive Coronavirus cases in Nepal as of now, experts are concerned over the inevitable occurrence of the pandemic. Looking at the struggle of even the most developed countries to contain it, a critical question on Nepal’s preparedness, governance, and capacity to handle the looming disaster does arise.
Given issues such as the prime minister’s kidney transplant and the internal bickering within the ruling party, the cabinet should be able to take decisions even in the absence of the Prime Minister. Perhaps, a heavily medicated prime minister is probably not in the right frame of mind to make decisions that are the need of the hour. The appointment of an officiating executive head for the duration that he is incapacitated could have eased governance.
Key areas to focus
Firstly, the frontline medical professionals should be given enough knowledge on the virus, its pathogenicity and transmission modes. With due consideration of the severity, the government should devise a response to contain infectious diseases. Health workers are always on the frontline during medical emergencies, and they should practice safety measures; for this, the necessary steps and required equipment should be in place for them. Amidst various public health concerns, specialized locations across countries should be prepared to strictly deal with COVID-19 pneumonia cases. Epidemic control, mitigation, and suppression should be the key driver for whatever action the government takes. The learnings from other countries should be adapted to the socio-economic context of the country and implemented.
As a shock-response measure, safety nets should be ensured for the ones who lost their livelihood during and after the lockdown. Even amidst lockdown, the government should guarantee the unbroken supply chain of the daily essentials for life. And with saving lives, the second agenda of saving the economy should come in once measures are in place to prevent the catastrophe.
Without a doubt, the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has created upheavals in the world economy. The impact is disastrous and will not spare Nepal as well. Nepal’s economy will be severely affected by the economic turmoil of neighbouring China and India as it is almost dependent on the Chinese and Indian supply chain. Further, the rise in the price of daily consumable goods along with the depreciating value of Nepali rupees against the USD, the inflation rate will go higher up beyond the government’s target of 6% for the year. Given Nepal’s foreign currency reserves dependency on remittance, a reduction will squeeze the liquidity in the domestic financial market, household economic activities, and international trade.
Despite the optimism that the economy will rebound, the virus-driven recession will affect more people economically by either causing them to lose their jobs or making them go bankrupt. Tourism and employment will remain the worst-hit areas for further ahead, even after the pandemic comes to an end causing a greater negative impact on Nepal’s economy.
When every country is fighting its own battle, Nepal is in it alone for the most part, and people fear this. Nevertheless, as of today, the focus for all countries has been on saving lives at risk, and unquestionably, people are much more important than the economy. Just like most of the people around the globe who are panicking about the destructive pandemic or its looming aftermath, Nepali people are also living under constant fear of what lies ahead, fear of a possible surge in the Coronavirus cases within the country that receives nurture from the globally accelerating crisis, lack of preparedness and confusion amongst all three tiers of government, the executive having a bed rest with frequent hospitalization after second renal transplant, no delegation of authority despite his health conditions, public mistrust of the government, horrid past experiences and uncertainties of the future, and lack of preparedness and capacity to fight the disease. What has further exacerbated this fear is the government’s haphazard, unscientific, and uncalculated decisions; the lockdown and a subsequent shortage of essential goods, for instance, has invited panic, especially in the absence of any government-funded stimulus plans and subsidies for the hardest-hit people, the daily-wage earners, and other vulnerable groups.
At a time when the entire world is battling against a common enemy, Nepali people cannot help but look back at their own experience and gauge how poorly prepared their government is. Nevertheless, along with the extension of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Cabinet meeting on March 30 has announced a relief package to cushion the impact of the disease on the economy. Irrespective of everything that should be done and is being done so far in Nepal, the Virus will be controlled only with patience and disciplined implementation of the lockdown, and life can return to normal.