Eight deaths and more than 1,500 infected people. Nepal’s infection rate has doubled in mere six days. A sense of dread has seeped into everyone’s mind. With the ‘just barely there’ health infrastructure in the country, one question haunts – what will happen if a full-blown COVID-19 infection takes place in Nepal? At a time when countries with the best healthcare systems in the world, such as the USA, the UK, and Italy, buckled under the number of infections brought on by the SARS-COV-II, the healthcare system and the health care workers of Nepal will undoubtedly be under tremendous pressure. Are we too bracing for a never-ending queue of patients in hospitals and are we prepared to send our loved ones off alone with final goodbyes, without being with them?
By the beginning of June, Nepalis will have been under lockdown for 70 days. The lockdown, which started on March 24, was supposed to be a time for the government to prepare strategies and plans to tackle this pandemic, but nothing seems to have been done. The recent news that the government has not procured even one ventilator, a piece of essential equipment necessary for serious COVID-19 patients, does not bode well. It seems the government is taking everything for granted – from suggesting to announce Nepal as a Coronavirus-free country to the President claiming, during her Policy and Program announcement that the pandemic has been brought under control.
Nepal-India Border Dispute
In another completely different matter, Nepal and India have been embroiled in a border dispute since November, when India released its ‘updated’ map after revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir; the map placed Kalapani within Indian borders. However, what sparked the latest controversy is India’s inauguration of an 80-kilometer link road passing through the same disputed region, and Nepal’s strong opposition to India’s unilateral action. The newly built road is supposed to serve as the shortest route between India’s capital of New Delhi and Kailash-Mansarovar, a Hindu pilgrimage site in the Tibetan Plateau.
Borders are, of course, a source of conflict, and Nepal and India share roughly 1800-km long open border causing small conflicts every now and then. But what makes our relationship so unique is not only the proximity, it’s our enduring commitment of brotherhood, neighborhood, faith, and the lives we have made as two sovereign countries. And today, more than ever, when the whole world is under the strain of a deadly virus, when the two countries have to come together to fight this pandemic, they are squabbling on the border issue, which is, again, important, but not now. Right now, what both the countries need are national plans to combat this Virus that has claimed more than 373,000 deaths – nearing 5,500 in India alone. Is Nepal trying to shove this pandemic problem out of the reaches of people by bringing in a new narrative of border conflict? By putting a façade of border problems out in the open, is the Oli government trying to hide the bigger problem that it has been unable to address?
Repatriation of Stranded Migrant Workers
The one concern that should have been on the top of this government’s agenda right now is bringing thousands of migrant workers stranded overseas back to Nepal. Migrant workers in India hit close to home. People have been walking for weeks to get home in Nepal and, en route, are dying due to starvation and exhaustion. People are dying due to the lack of medical attention. The state has failed them. Instead of bringing these stranded migrant workers from India and from different countries, the country has let them be on their own means. After two months of lockdown, the state is gearing up to repatriate its citizens. When will it start, is again the moot question.
Relief Programs for Daily Wage Earners
A porter lost his life in Kathmandu. His lifeless body lay cold and unclaimed. He died of starvation. He died of apathy. With no work for two months, he relied on good Samaritans for food. As the lockdown extended yet again, his frail old body gave away. The government has yet to come out with relief packages for thousands of others like this old man who rely on everyday earnings for their daily sustenance.
Mental Health during Lockdown
According to a data compiled by Nepal Police, the suicide cases across the country increased by 16% in the first month of lockdown only. A total of 875 people committed suicide during the lockdown period of two months. If the lockdown keeps on increasing, the number of suicide cases is sure to increase as psychiatrists have linked the deaths with mental health of people who have been forced to stay indoor during lockdown. It is important that proper measures are brought in place to ease the lockdown and people are given ample information about physical and social distancing in the time of this pandemic.
Pre-monsoon has started, and monsoon is on its way to Nepal. With the pandemic creating havoc in the country, can Nepal brace for the aftermath of monsoon floods that happens annually? Every year, the Terai lowlands see mayhem from floods. People die, their homes are washed away, and their food source is lost. This has been a cycle that keeps on repeating. At this difficult juncture, it has to be made sure that no extra lives are lost this year due to flooding. No one should have to live under tarpaulins with rains lashing them day and night. No one deserves this kind of apathy. The local as well as provincial government should learn from the previous experiences and come up with strategies and plans to avoid similar kinds of tragedy being repeated this year.