News Digest – National Security & Climate Change (March 18-24, 2021)

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According to the health ministry, as of March 24, Nepal’s COVID-19 tally stands at 276,244 and the death tally has reached 3,019. There are 1,128 active cases of infection in the country while 272,097 people have made a recovery.

According to reports, a cabinet meeting on March 18 decided to remove quarantine requirements for tourists who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. “Currently, tourists are required to show a negative PCR report taken less than 72 hours before departure, 7 days quarantine in a hotel, and a COVID-19 insurance of US$ 5000 per person”. The move is an effort to boost tourism after Nepal’s tourism industry faced a huge blow in 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Ministry of Health issued a statement on March 21, advising the public to follow safety protocols such as social distancing, wearing masks in public places, and frequently washing their hands. The statement comes amidst reports of dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases in Nepal’s southern neighbor, India. The ministry has also instructed concerned health and security agencies to remain vigilant and adopt necessary protocols to prevent and mitigate a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

Nepali authorities recently approved the use of Covaxin, a COVID-19 vaccine developed by an Indian company, Bharat Biotech. However, procurement details are not clear yet. According to Health Ministry officials, the export price of the vaccine has not been confirmed but it has been estimated to cost around USD16 per unit. They also said that, last month, the government had bought the Covishield vaccine at USD 4 per unit and if the estimated price of Covaxin is correct, Nepal would not be able to afford it. However, the government’s efforts to buy Covishield has also been in a deadlock as the Indian manufacturing company has yet to respond.

According to the data provided by the Ministry of Health, the number of active cases in Nepal is below 1000 cases. Similarly, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported within 24 hours is below 100. With the ongoing vaccination drive, the numbers do not sound alarming and the efforts to curb infections appear successful. However, public health experts have warned against developing a false sense of security by relying on the numbers, stressing the pandemic is far from over. They say that threat of surge in infections still looms large due to factors such as negligence, slow-paced immunization and possibility of new variants. Especially when neighboring Indian states with whom Nepal shares open and porous borders, are experiencing spikes in the number of new COVID-19 cases.

The government has approved the cutting down of trees and flattening of a hill required to complete the construction of Pokhara International Airport which could now possibly be completed by the end of the year. The approval comes after several months of delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the chief of the project, while the cabinet has given its approval in principle, it is yet to be determined if the government has included any environment related conditions that could possibly delay the project.

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