News Digest – National Security & Climate Change (February 25 – March 3, 2021)

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According to the health ministry, as of March 3, Nepal’s COVID-19 tally stands at 274,294 and the death tally has reached 2777. There are 974 active cases of infection in the country while 270,543 people have made a recovery.

The World Health Organization has said that it will only be providing 13% (380,000) of the COVAX vaccine doses that it had initially promised to Nepal (2,256,000). This news comes at a time the Nepal government is set to launch the second phase of the COVID-19 immunization drive from March 7. Reports suggest that this development has made it necessary for the government to procure additional doses from elsewhere to avoid facing a shortage. The Health Ministry has announced its decision to vaccinate people above the age of 55 years in the upcoming vaccination campaign.

Nepal recently purchased two million doses of the Covishield vaccines from the serum institute of India at the rate of $4 per dose. However, as the demand for COVID-19 vaccines soars worldwide, they have shown reluctance to sell the vaccines at that price, sources say. According to reports, one million of the purchased doses have already arrived and the second half is set to arrive soon. However, according to a health ministry official, procuring the same vaccine at a higher price is going to be a challenge for the second phase of Nepal’s vaccination drive.

Reports say that despite having 88 polymerase chain reaction laboratories in Nepal, data collection efforts have been inadequate. The Epidemiology and Disease Control Division had requested a budget of Rs 240 million to hire staff in order to ramp up contact tracing efforts. However, the budget has not yet been approved. Instead, the government limited free testing to symptomatic individuals and stopped contact tracing efforts altogether. Furthermore, only one seroprevalence study that could reflect the infection rates and risk levels has been carried out so far displaying negligence from authorities during various stages of the pandemic.

The Nepal government signed a multi-million dollar carbon trade agreement with the World Bank Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) with the aim of reducing carbon emissions through the preservation of forests. Under the agreement, Nepal will receive a certain amount of money (up to US USD 45 million/Rs 5 billion) for reducing emissions by carrying out practices listed in the UN mechanism named ‘Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation. To secure the funds, “Nepal will need to either cut down emissions or increase carbon stock in the forest”.

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