The performance of the agencies involved in Covid-19 pandemic response in Nepal:
Given the steady rise in the number of hospitalizations and slow rate of recovery in Covid-19 patients, public health experts suggested that another lockdown was unavoidable. However, Government of Nepal, disinclined to enforce a lockdown, announced prohibitory orders instead. Authorities decided to restrict the movement of all vehicles after 8 pm barring those deployed for emergency services while continuing the ban on public gatherings and rallies, and close business houses that attract crowds. However, the decision to restrict movement only during night-time courted controversy from the public and experts alike who called it an ineffective strategy because mobility is highest during the day. Moreover, data on infections supported their argument as cases continued to increase at a consistent rate despite the orders. While authorities defended their decision and said that their aim was to curb people from going out at night and socializing; the ban was lifted in two weeks. Such ineffective strategies, along with consistent lack of coordination among agencies involved, inadequate and unclear strategies for vaccine distribution, and an overall negligence of the lives of people may spell disaster in the face of a possible third wave.
Lockdown effectiveness and impact
As a third wave looms large, cases continue to surge despite prohibitory orders in place. If the past is any indication, cases surge when restrictions are poorly enforced and/or restrictions in place are inadequate, and the public fails to self-regulate. The second wave was particularly devastating for Nepal because of low vaccination percentage among its population and more transmissible and deadlier Covid-19 variants making the rounds. However, authorities only acknowledged the seriousness of the situation when the public had already suffered irreparable loss. Such negligence could spell disaster in the face of the third wave.
The lockdowns during the first and second wave demonstrated that such blanket policies fail to take into consideration the social and economic costs. Despite being caught on the back foot various time as the Covid-19 pandemic continued to unravel, Nepali authorities have failed to draw lessons to avoid situations of panic and helplessness by making the pandemic a priority. For instance, the lack of safety nets such as compensation policies and programs for low income families made them all the more vulnerable during the crisis.
Vaccine Purchase and Administration:
Vaccines have been pouring into Nepal after a vaccine gap that lasted for months. Nepal has received vaccines aid from Japan, while purchasing additional vaccines from China and the COVAX facility. The government also recently purchased 4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, set to arrive in February. However, ensuring safe, efficient, and equitable distribution of vaccines remains a challenge in Nepal. Vaccine distribution is logistically challenging and must be executed with care and precision which requires a stable and effective health system, as well as extensive planning and coordination among the agencies involved. However, the government as well relevant agencies are grappling with issues of prioritizing groups, administration of the vaccines, maintaining safety protocols at vaccination centers, etc.
Lack of Coordination:
Highly contagious mutated variants of the Covid-19 virus continue to spread rapidly throughout the country, significantly raising the risk of outbreaks. However, agencies responsible to come up with mechanisms to mitigate the effects of the virus such as the Health Ministry and the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre are embroiled in a blame game. Lack of coordination among these agencies has become even more apparent as they continue to point fingers at each other for an unclear response plan and inadequate mitigation strategies as a third wave of infection looms. With the availability of vaccines, it is imperative that along with enforcement of efficient safety protocols, agencies involved have a secure and equitable distribution plan, public messaging and awareness on progress on vaccine rollout, and maintenance of health records including inoculation status of individuals, if the mistakes of the past handlings are to be avoided. The efficiency of health workers has also been impacted by in the management of the pandemic. Insufficient resources essential in the handling of the pandemic such as test kits, human resource, oxygen, medical equipment’s as capability development of health care providers is essential to a good pandemic response.
Nepalis in Afghanistan
Nepalis travel abroad for security jobs and among those are Gurkhas hired by private contractors to provide protection to officials, diplomats, and companies in Afghanistan. They are also among the thousands of Nepali nationals trying to flee Afghanistan amidst Taliban takeover. Nepali officials have said that while the government has made diplomatic efforts to coordinate their evacuation, the process has become complicated as many contractors have been working in Afghanistan illegally and records are inaccurate. While most are security guards recruited by private military contractors, some are laborers and some are undocumented. While those with regular jobs have been assured evacuation by employers, those undocumented are without agency and are hoping that the Nepal government will facilitate their evacuation. However, officials have also stated that “we are committed to make their repatriation at the earliest, irrespective of their status”.