News Digest (April 9 – April 15, 2020)


Wear masks

Domestic Politics

Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the Government: In a cabinet meeting on April 14, 2020, the government decided to extend the ongoing national lockdown until April 27.[1] NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal stressed the need to form a strong mechanism, consisting of members from all parties, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. He also admitted his growing distance with Prime Minister Oli and suggested that he is open for an open discussion.[2]

NCP spokesperson, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, pledged to contribute a year-worth of his salary to the government’s COVID-19 fund.[3] On April 9, a high-level committee of the government overturned its own decision to allow the people stranded and struggling in Kathmandu to go back to their home towns/villages. Concerned with the reported incidents of people leaving the city for their homes in far districts, such as Siraha and Saptari, the meeting came up with a decision to allow long and short route vehicles out of the capital to run for two days—April 10 and 11. However, the decision was reversed following provincial governments’ reluctance to comply and a criticism against the government for their inability to accommodate its own citizens.[4]

The government finally called for a meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which constitutes of leaders from the opposition and other parties; the decision to activate the council was triggered by a widespread criticism of the government for sidelining other parties’ elected representatives.[5]

Prime Minister and NCP co-chair KP Sharma Oli expressed his dissatisfaction with the media for publishing the party’s secretariat meetings’ sensitive discussions and information. He also urged NCP leaders and workers to stay away from such media reporting.[6] 

Nepali Congress (NC) and the Opposition: Criticizing the government’s decision to slash security personnel’s salary amid the coronavirus crisis, ex-finance minister Dr Prakash Chandra Lohani stressed that the salaries of the president, prime minister, and the parliamentarians, instead, should be deducted by 25%.[7] Nonetheless, NC decided to contribute half-month salary of all their MPs to the government-established COVID-19 relief fund.[8] On the occasion of Nepali New Year, 2077, RJP-N urged all stakeholders to move forward by establishing a national agreement, which will best address any problems within the country.[9] 

Federal Parliament: Citing ‘technological constrains’ and a lack of ‘existing laws,’ the parliament secretariat denied cross-party MP’s request to hold parliament committee meetings virtually.[10] 

House Speaker, Agni Sapkota, called for a Business Advisory Committee meeting on April 13 to discuss the role lawmakers can play during the pandemic.[11] The meeting concluded that the government failed to take timely action in the prevention and management of the Coronavirus crisis and, therefore, decided to contribute parliamentary fund to ‘the government’s Coronavirus Management and Control Fund.’[12]

The Judiciary: The Supreme Court issued a 24-point directive to the courts throughout the country. The directive included instructions to conduct legal procedures with a special sensitivity for security during the times of the COVID-19 pandemic.[13]

Governance and Corruption

PM, CM’s join video conference to discuss COVID-19 response: PM Oli held a video conference on April 11 with Chief Ministers of all seven provinces to discuss the status of the COVID-19 crisis and the concerned governments’ preparations and response. The chief ministers briefed PM Oli about the efforts made by their provinces to contain the spread of COVID-19. PM Oli instructed the respective provinces to expedite the relief packages to adversely hit people by the lockdown.[14]

Government lists 111 hospitals for COVID-19 treatment: Government listed 111 hospitals for the treatment of COVID-19 patients or those suspected of it. The list includes both government and private hospitals. An interim directive released on April 13 by the Ministry of Health and Population on the management of COVID-19, specified the rights, roles, and responsibilities of the hospitals. This directive comes after media reports that private hospitals were not handling cases fearing infection.[15]

Government seeks Chinese support for the purchase of medical supplies: Nepal once again sought China’s support for the facilitation of the purchase of medical equipment on G-to-G basis. Minister of Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali held a telephone conversation with Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic China on April 13.[16]

With mass testing more cases of COVID-19 begin to emerge: With the increase in mass testing, more cases of COVID-19 have emerged. The Health Ministry confirmed two news COVID-19 cases on April 13. Similarly, two more cases were reported from the valley’s Suncity Apartment where the family returned from the UK 28 days ago. Following the incident, the police sealed the apartment and restricted movement around the area. The government decided all the residents of Suncity apartment to be tested for COVID-19. There are about 400 families residing in the apartment. The total number of cases in Nepal have now risen to 16.[17]

Coronavirus lockdown to continue till April 27: Border closed until situation improves in India: The government decided to continue the national lockdown until April 27. The cabinet took the decision amid more reports of positive COVID-19 cases being found in the valley. A statement released by the government stated, ‘the decision for the extension of the lockdown was recommended by a High level COVID-19 prevention and control committee’. The cabinet also decided to continue the suspension on all flights. The southern border will also be closed until the situation normalizes in India.[18]

Lawmakers agree to use parliamentary funds to combat coronavirus: Lawmakers agreed to contribute the budget under Local Infrastructure Development Partnership to be transferred to the government’s Coronavirus Management and Control Fund. A total of Rs 9.9 billion is allocated to the total of 165 constituencies. This decision was taken unanimously by the lawmakers. PM Oli also said that he will not receive his salary as long as the impact of COVID-19 continues in the county. He said that his salary would be deposited to the government’s fund established to control the outbreak in the country.[19]

Airworthiness certificate of Nepal Airlines’ 757 expires while waiting on lockdown: Nepal Airlines’ venerable jet certificate of airworthiness has expired while waiting out on the coronavirus flight restrictions. CSDS Aircraft Sales and Leasing confirmed the purchase of Boeing 757 by depositing USD 281,000 to Nepal Airline’s account. However, due to the spread of the pandemic, leading to travel restrictions and lockdowns, they had not been able to sign a formal buyout deal. Ganesh Bahadur Chand, acting managing director for Nepal Airlines said that the Airlines are looking to revalidate the airworthiness certificate as soon as the American company communicates with them. [20]

A cabinet meeting held on April 14, also appointed former secretary, Sushil Ghimire[21] as the executive chairman of Nepal Airlines Corporation. Madan Kharel had tendered his resignation as the executive chairman on January 20.

Security & Strategic Affairs

China agrees to reopen only Tatopani border point for now: Both border points with China in Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani remained closed since late January in efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that originated from Wuhan of Hubei province in China. [22]However, in a committee meeting held on March 25, the Nepali government gave the go ahead on the reopening of both border points with China to allow the movement of goods, but China agreed to reopen only the Tataopani border for now.

Controversial test kits pushed for mass tests before being tested for validity: The 75,000 Rapid Test Kits acquired from China came under fire after being procured through a controversial tender and the quality of the procured tests has been raised. [23]Although the government assured that the test kits would only be used after they were tested for validity, they are being used in many districts and provinces. 

The Nepal Police’s decision to deduct salary of officials invites criticism: The Nepal Police’s decision to deduct three to seven day’s salary above the rank of assistant sub-inspector and divert it towards the national fund of all officials met with criticism. [24]Critics such as members of the NCP described the decision as unfair and unjust for those who are on the frontlines after health workers. Those who condemned this decision argued that it could affect the morale of the security forces.

Some of Nepal’s live case COVID-19 patients to be discharged soon: According to health officials, the health condition of all of Nepal’s live cases of COVID-19 is asymptomatic and three are likely to be discharged soon if tested negative in both tests conducted within 24 hours. [25]Of the eight patients, two are at the Sukraraj Tropical and infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, two at the Dhaulagiri Zonal Hospital, and four at the Seti Provincial Hospital in Dhangadhi.

Birgunj Metropolitan tightens security after three new positive cases: The Birgunj Metropolitan tightened security after three Indian nationals tested positive for COVID-19. Security forces sealed more areas along with the government-imposed nationwide lockdown. [26]The Indian nationals who tested positive were in Birgunj for 13 days and are requested to disclose their travel history in an attempt to trace other potential cases of COVID-19.

Nepal and India deploy joint patrol teams along border posts to stop forceful entry across borders: Nepal and India deployed joint patrol teams along border points in Kapilvastu district amid the government-imposed nationwide lockdown following the steadily rising cases of COVID-19. [27]An inspector deployed at one of the posts shared that despite the lockdown and efforts to curtail movement, people on both sides of the border enter each other’s territory forcefully. However, these people are arrested and put under quarantine.

Number of positive cases in Nepal reaches 16: Nepal health officials reported two more positive cases of COVID-19 as of April 14, 2020. With this development, the number of positive cases in the country reached 16. A family of three had returned from the United Kingdom a month ago and all three tested positive in the rapid diagnostic tests (RDT). [28] However, among the three, two also tested positive for the virus in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. PCR result of one is awaited.

Those released without undergoing tests called back to facility after a positive case confirmed in the same facility in Rautahat: Eleven people quarantined at the same facility in Rautahat where a COVID-19 patient was sheltered were released without undergoing tests. [30]According to the health coordinator at the municipality, they were released after 15 days in quarantine when they showed no symptoms and the facility did not have test kits to rule out asymptomatic patients. However, after another person being sheltered at the same facility tested positive, those released have been called back to undergo rapid tests.

International Relations

Ministry of Foreign Affairs to suspend certain privileges of honorary consuls in Nepal: The Minister of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) decided to withdraw “certain facilities and privileges” provided to honorary consuls based in Nepal after the honorary consul of Kyrgyzstan was found to have misused his vehicle with special registration to black market thermal scanners. He was arrested red handed in possession of 66 units of thermal scanner. The decision was taken on April 8.[31]

Honorary Consul of Kyrgyzstan Agrawal stripped of his title: On April 9, MoFA sent a note through diplomatic channels to Kyrgyzstan informing them about Sulav Agrawal’s involvement in illegal activities. MoFA stripped Agrawal of his designation as the Honorary Consul of Kyrgyzstan.[32]

IMF revokes debt payment: International Monetary Fund (IMF) decided to use the grants from its Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to lay-off the debt payment for 25 most impoverished nations including Nepal. IMF approved USD 500 million to help the nations fight COVID-19 pandemic and urged other governments to refill the trusts’ funds. The IMF Executive Director noted that this is the initial 6-month support and they are looking at alternatives to channel more financial resources towards the worldwide emergency.[33]

Maldives asks Nepalis to return: The tourism industry is badly hit due to the pandemic. The labourers in the hospitality sector are being asked to return home. Similarly, hotels and restaurants in Maldives issued return tickets to 5,000 Nepali migrant workers. As soon as the lockdown is lifted, they are likely to fly back home. However, no formal coordination has been made between the Nepali embassy in Maldives and the authorities here.[34]

Gender, Social Inclusion, Migration, and Human Rights

Relief package distribution: Relief packages distributed by ward offices in Kathmandu Metropolitan City and Madhyapur Thimi Municipality have excluded majority of daily wage earners and needy people. Most of them are unaware of the relief packages distribution. Likewise, ward offices didn’t register their name because of the lack of citizenship certificate or reference letters from their landlord.[35]

Nepali students abroad: Nepali students abroad are seeking help from their host government for payment of tuition fees and rent as the crisis driven by COVID-19 has affected their income. Huge number of students filled the Emergency Relief Form and said that they want the government of Nepal to have an agreement with their host government to provide relief. Nepali students in Australia are more worried as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked foreign students to go to their country if they cannot sustain themselves for six months after the pandemic.[36]

COVID-19 affects global job market: According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the crisis triggered by COVID-19 will kill 6.7% of work hours globally in the second quarter of 2020. ILO findings show 1.25 billion workers are engaged in the occupation which is at high risk such as accommodation and food services, retail, manufacturing, and administrative activities. Nepali migrant workers will be affected enormously as the report says the crisis will wipe out almost 5 million jobs in the Gulf alone.[37]  It also shows that 2 billion informal sectors workers are at risk.[38] 

Increasing violence against women amid lockdown: Number of women complaining domestic violence cases to the National Women Commission during the lockdown period is increasing.  More than 60 domestic violence cases and 13 cases related to other forms of violence were registered since March 24 to April 5 at the Commission. Similarly, a spokesperson of the Police Headquarter said that 44 complaints of VAW were registered since March 24 to April 7. Women are compelled to live with their perpetrators as the country is under lockdown with the health sector looking at crisis and lack of shelter homes with quarantine facilities. The commission’s staff and police also cannot reach them easily due to the nationwide lockdown.[39]  

Dubai warns to repatriate all migrant workers: The United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s Ministry of Human Resource warned to suspend Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and set strict restrictions on recruitments of workers to all South Asian Countries which refuse to repatriate the migrant workers who want to come home. There are approximately 275,000 Nepali workers in the UAE. However, Nepal doesn’t have flight or quarantine capacity to repatriate the workers if they want to come. Meanwhile, the Nepali Association (NRNA) in the UAE started collecting data of the workers who wanted to return home itself as the government of Nepal didn’t pay attention to its request.[40]

Provincial and Local Governments

Distribution of Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) Kits: The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) sent 5,000 rapid diagnostic test (RDT) for COVID-19 test in all the seven provinces.[41] The Ministry of Social Development of Province 5 deployed six teams of health workers to test the health condition of suspected COVID-19. Through the RDT kits, the province will give priority to those in quarantines. Since April 10, 2,506 people are under quarantine in Province 5.[42]

Similarly, Bagmati Pradesh started the COVID-19 test through the RDT kits in all 13 districts. According to the Ministry of Social Development, Bagmati Pradesh is also giving priority to 4,300 people under quarantine. Due to insufficient kits, the Pradesh government has demanded additional kits from the federal government.[43]

Expansion of COVID-19 Test Facilities: Apart from the Central Laboratory in Kathmandu, the federal government expanded the testing facilities of COVID-19 in nine places—Dharan of Province 1, Janakpur of Province 2, Kathmandu, Bharatpur, Hetauda, and Kavre of Bagmati Pradesh, Pokhara of Gandaki Pradesh, Bhairahwa of Province 5, Surkhet of Karnali Pradesh, and Dhangadhi of Sudurpashchim Pradesh. Despite the rising number of COVID-19 positive reports, the number of tests being run are very less. Doctors and experts suggest expanding the scope of the COVID-19 and everyone under quarantine to be tested.[44]

COVID-19 Fund and Health worker facilities: The cabinet of Sudurpashchim Pradesh decided to distribute Rs 3,000 per poor family as relief. The provincial government has allocated Rs 160 million for the purpose. According to the government, the long-drawn lockdown has severely affected the economies of poor families. The cabinet also decided to buy 20 sets of ventilators for all district hospitals. The government also decided to provide Rs 1.5 million as insurance to the health workers.[45]

Province 2 government decided to provide a relief amount of Rs 5 million to the families who lose their lives during the fight against COVID-19. Similarly, as a relief to the farmers, the provincial government decided to pay interest for four months on their loans from banks and financial institutions.[46]

Province 5 government allocated Rs 117.5 million in the Corona Relief Fund.[47] All local governments of Ramechhap have established a fund for the control and prevention of the COVID-19.[48]

Photo: Image by Hank Williams from Pixabay


















































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