As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the country and daily death tolls climbed to well over a hundred, Prime Minister Oli and his adversaries continued to spend their time politicking rather than focusing on crisis response. Despite the Prime Minister’s claim that the pandemic is under control, the situation began to unravel quick as the country recorded over 9,000 cases of daily infections. However, Nepali authorities appear to be doing everything but taking responsibility and executing a plan to contain the pandemic. Public health experts had warned against developing a false sense of security created by low number of cases Nepal was reporting saying that it was due to the low levels of testing. Soon enough it became clear that the virus was far more prevalent in the country when Nepal saw a steep rise of infections between mid-April and mid-May.
Public-health experts say the surge in India has likely spread to Nepal through the shared open border when Nepal began to mirror India’s surge as rising number of infections created a shortage of beds, oxygen, ventilators, and human resources. There were also reports of the drug remdesivir and allied medicines used in the treatment of Covid-19 being sold at inflated prices in the black market. With Nepal’s health system buckling under the pressures of the second wave, infected individuals were left scrambling for support on their own. Nepal’s hospitals are facing an oxygen crisis which has led hospitals to discharge its patients and turn away others. Furthermore, the situation has also compelled infected individuals to isolate and be treated at home without seeking medical help. Experts have expressed fear that high risk patients such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions could die at home. This has not only exposed Nepal’s underfunded, poorly staffed, and inadequate infrastructure of the public health system, it has also demonstrated that the government had not learnt any lessons from the first wave of the pandemic.
Although the second wave came more than a year from the onset of the first wave, the government was caught flat footed and ill prepared yet again. Nepal has insufficient testing, where positivity rates remain high, yet Red Cross reported a glaring statistic of a positivity rate of 45 per cent across the country of 30 million people, which is currently among the highest in the world. While the government has announced that antigen tests will be ramped up to 25,000 a day, experts say that contact tracing measures must also be ramped up while suspected cases are quarantined and infected individuals are isolated and treated.
Vaccines are offering a way to transition out of the pandemic, the government of Nepal has been unsuccessful in procuring vaccines for its citizens and only 2 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated. While disparities in vaccine access for poor countries like Nepal is an obvious challenge, the governments delayed decisions and failure to diversify sources of vaccines has caused a vaccine crisis in the country. The elderly population that had received their first dose in the second week of March, are yet to receive their second jab after India imposed restrictions on the export of vaccines to meet domestic demands. A Ministry of Health and Population representative has stated that the government has decided to widen the gap between the first and second vaccine jab to 12-16 weeks, in line with the Indian government’s decision. However, Nepali authorities are still unsure whether the vaccine will be available even within the extended deadline. According to reports, Nepal has also detected cases of black fungus, a rare and deadly fungal infection which is being commonly observed among COVID-19 patients with diabetes. With the emergence of several mutational strains and health consequences of the virus, Nepal stares at a Covid-19 catastrophe.
Despite there being many lessons to be learnt from the first wave of the pandemic, the Nepali government resorted to delayed responses, mixed and false messaging, denial, and lack of serious intent to consider the advice of experts in the handling of the pandemic. Authorities have displayed failure in governance despite seeing the crisis unfold in the first wave. Nepali leaders politicking during a pandemic has cost lives and there are daily death figures and countless examples of families that have been left devastated and livelihoods ruined. The crisis now gripping Nepal has become a cautionary tale for other countries with weak healthcare systems, little vaccine protection, and fractious politicians.