COVID-19

News Digest (April 23 – April 29, 2020)

CESIF Nepal Democracy and Political Parties, Development, Infrastructure, Corruption, Foreign Policy, Gender and Inclusion, News Digest, Security, Climate Change Leave a Comment

Domestic Politics

Nepal Communist Party & the Ordinance Controversy: In a precautionary move, Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJP-N) and Samajwadi Forum Nepal (SFN) agreed to unite and form a new Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP). Top leaders from both parties met late at night on April 22, 2020, and decided to merge.[1], [2]

Displeased with PM Oli’s move to introduce the new ordinances and concerned about the NCP’s future, 20 standing committee members wrote a letter to the party chiefs—Dahal and Oli—demanding a standing committee meeting soon.[3]

Following the widespread criticism, Oli held province-wise meetings with lawmakers to try and ‘court’ them by explaining the true intentions behind the ordinances; he clarified that the Political Party ordinance was not aimed at splitting the NCP.[4] Oli expressed his disappointment at his party leaders for not understanding his ‘good intentions’ behind the ordinances.[5]

After the criticism and a failed attempt to split the Samajwadi Party Nepal, Prime Minister Oli decided to repeal the two ordinances; a meeting of the council of ministers on April 24, 2020, made the decision, which was later approved by the president.[6] According to Nepali Congress, however, only repealing the controversial and unconstitutional ordinances should not spare the parties involved; there should be legal action against everyone involved.[7]

On the occasion of NCP’s 70th anniversary, senior leaders—Oli, Dahal, Nepal, and Khanal— released four separate statements, which highlights the party’s intra-faction tensions.[8]

Several rounds of NCP’s factional meetings on April 27, 2020, ended without any positive development for PM Oli, who is now under a huge pressure from the rival factions.[9] Amidst the heightened intra-party tension, a secretariat meeting has been called on April 29, 2020.[10]

‘Abduction’ of MP Yadav: SFN’s MP Surenda Yadav, who was taken to Naxal’s Marriot hotel in an alleged ‘political abduction’ escaped the premise and informed his party leaders of the event.[11] Former IGP Sarbendra Khanal and lawmakers Mahesh Basnet and Kisan Shrestha had been to Yadav’s residence in Janakpur and had brought him to Kathmandu ‘against his will.’

Only days after the Metropolitan Police Range, Teku, refused to file an FIR against the trio for Yadav’s alleged abduction, the Kathmandu District Government Attorney office also declined to register a complaint against them.[12]

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Prime Minister Oli held a private discussion with Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba. After an hour-long session, Dahal joined the meeting, which is believed to have discussed the measures to collectively fight the COVID-19 pandemic.[13]

After a prolonged inactivity due to the COVID-19 restrictions, several parliamentary committees are now beginning to resume their business; the Public Accounts Committee started its investigation of the “alleged irregularities in procurement of the medical equipment,” whereas other committees have also started convening.[14] 

A meeting of the Council of Ministers on April 26, 2020, decided to extend the on-going national lockdown for 10 days, until May 7, 2020.[15] Domestic and International flights will remain suspended till May 15, 2020.[16]

Freedom & Democracy: Bhim Upadhyay, former secretary of the Nepal Government, who was arrested on cyber offense charge was released on April 27, 2020, on a bail of Rs. 25,000.[17] 

The state-run Radio Nepal deleted an interview with Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who was critical of the government during the radio’s live program ‘Antarsambad.’[18]

Governance

Repealing the ordinances might quell dissent but Oli still faces moral questions: Five days after issuing ordinances creating a massive political controversy, PM Oli backtracked on April 24 and withdrew both ordinances. Based on the new provision, a section of the Samajbadi Party has sought to split the party only to be merged with the Rastriya Janata Party. Surendra Yadav, a leader of the Samajbadi party, alleged that he was abducted and brought to Kathmandu from Janakpur at Oli’s behest. While insiders are saying that Oli eventually gave in to the pressure, and is still refusing to acknowledge that the ordinances were a mistake.[19]

Lockdown will continue until COVID-19 cases are brought under control, PM Oli: Prime Minister Oli said that the lockdown will not be lifted in the country until the COVID-19 situation is effectively brought under control. He also stated that the cross-border movement toward the southern border will also continue to remain shut until the situation of coronavirus is effectively contained in India.[20]

Security

Experts suggest Nepal has entered stage 4 of the pandemic: Experts say that the sudden rise of the number of Covid-19 cases in Udayapur could be due to community transfer of the virus, taking the country into stage 3 of the pandemic. Dr Baburam Marasini, former director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division said that some people who are not associated with the people from India or their family members have also tested positive for the virus.[23] Prior to this development, Nepal had reported only one case of local transmission in Kailali, which had taken the country into stage 2. Nepal entering into stage 3 makes contact tracing and tests all the more important.

10,000 PCR kits flown from Singapore: 10,000 PCR testing kits were flown from Singapore to Kathmandu on the evening of April 23. Singapore’s Tamasek Foundation provided the testing kits, named ‘Fortitude Kit 2.0’, to aid Nepal’s efforts to detect COVID-19 cases in the country. These test kits will be deployed to frontline workers to test patients all across the country.[24]

Nepalis in England on the receiving end of xenophobic attacks amid rising Covid-19 cases: The Covid-19 pandemic sparked a series of xenophobic attacks across the world and Nepalis in England have also been on the receiving end. There were two instances of Arson in Maidstone, England, where cars belonging to individuals of the Gurkha community were set on fire,[25] giving reasons to believe that the attacks were racially motivated. Various individuals of Nepali origin also reported being verbally abused and being called racist slurs.

Suspension of all flights extended until May 15: The government announced that the suspension on all international and domestic flights to Nepal have been extended until May 15. This decision came after a high level coordination committee for prevention and control of COVID-19 led by the Home Minister took a decision on April 25 in light of the rising number of cases in the country.[26]

Health Ministry explores options regarding the lockdown as current extension nears expiry: The Health Ministry floated two proposals in regards to the ongoing lockdown. The two options were either to extend the lockdown by at least another week or to authorise the seven provincial governments to come up with their own measures in response to the virus. However, before the current extension expired on midnight of April 27, the lockdown was extended for the fourth time until May 7.[27]

Health officials prompt the government to ramp up PCR tests instead of rapid testing: The validity of the results shown by the rapid diagnostic test (RDT) became a controversial issue after several unreliable results. Public health experts argue that RDT kits cannot be used for diagnostic purposes and that the government should shift their focus from conducting rapid tests to ramping up polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.[28] Several countries and various states in India have stopped using RDT kits after a majority of tests proved ineffective. As of April 26, 43,000 RDT tests have been performed throughout the country.

Nepali citizens on the Nepal-India border still crossing Mahakali River to enter the country: Reports of Nepali citizens stranded in India crossing the Mahakali River in order to return home began making news after the nationwide lockdown was first announced to subdue the outbreak of COVID-19 on March 23. The government decided to allow all Nepalis stranded on the border to enter the country under the condition that they would remain in quarantine for 14 days.[29] The Nepal-India border has been sealed for over a month now with more people swimming the Mahakali River to get home in Nepal. 

Measles outbreak in various districts amid lockdown: Measles outbreak was reported in five districts including Kathmandu and Lalitpur amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Health officials raised concerns over the disruption of routine immunization programmes with the entire nation under lockdown. Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, former director of the erstwhile Children Health Division said that the coverage of measles-rubella vaccine is already low in our country and the ongoing pandemic has dealt a severe blow to their endeavour to contain the contagious disease. More people and children could die from other diseases than from the pandemic itself.[30]

International Relations

India extends a helping hand: India has offered Nepal 23 tonnes of medical supplies to help its northern neighbour combat the COVID-19. On April 22, the Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra donated 825,000 doses of essential medicines, comprising 320,000 paracetamol and 250,000 hydroxychloroquine to the Ministry of Health and Population.[31] However, two of these medicines are not approved by Nepal’s department of drug administration.[32]

Nepalis in Qatar get amnesty: Considering the risk of COVID-19, 17 Nepalis arrested in Qatar due to numerous criminal activities have been forgiven. According to the Nepal embassy in Doha, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar granted amnesty after taking into account the health condition of the prisoners.[33] Subsequently, PM Oli extended his gratitude to the Sheikh and discussed other matters related to the Nepalis living in Qatar.[34]

Nepali Congress proposes protection for the 5 million Nepalis abroad: The NC Spokesperson Biswo Prakash Sharma suggested an increase in resources and security for the Nepalis abroad to keep them safe given the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement was made after assessing the condition of the Nepalis abroad. NC stressed the urgency of the situation and insisted that Nepalis abroad should be inquired and rescued. The government must ideally initiate and form a rescue task force for the 1,000 infected and 50 dead Nepalis abroad. Timely treatment for Nepalis shouldn’t be neglected.[35]

Nepali government to send migrant workers to South Korea: The Nepal and South Korea government bilaterally decided to allow Nepali workers who have passed the Korean language test to go to their destination. The government has, however, not granted access to other labour destinations. Yubaraj Khatiwada announced this decision on April 26.[36]

New Nepali Ambassador to China appointed: On April 26, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey swore in as the new Ambassador of Nepal to China. President Bidya Devi Bhandari administered the oath at the President’s office. The decision to appoint Pandey was made on April 17.[37]

35 Nepalis enter and 36 Indians leave: On April 25, 35 Nepalis from Dang, Kapilvastu and Rupandehi who were stuck at the Indian border were allowed entry through Krishnanagar border point. They were already quarantined in India for the past 28 days. Nonetheless, all Nepalis who entered were tested for COVID-19 through RDT (Rapid Diagnostic Test kits). In exchange, 36 Indians stuck on the wrong side of the border were allowed to return home.[38]

Medical equipment being transported through Tatopani border: The Tatopani border was opened on April 8 for the transportation of medical supplies. Since then, the equipment is safely being transferred daily and securely. The grants from the Tibetan government worth Rs 83 million and other private companies are being brought via the border. According to the chief of the customs office, two PCR machines, 20,000 sets of testing kits, and 72,000 pieces of face masks have been imported so far.[39]

EU offers monetary support to Nepal: The European Union has offered Rs 9.8 billion worth grant and aid to Nepal to combat the spread of COVID-19. Amongst the total package, Rs 7.2 billion is a reallocation of existing funds and Rs 2.6 billion is a new commitment. The support has been offered to provide immediate health care support and support the government to deal with the economic crisis.[40]

Qatar proposes medical help to Nepal: Qatar’s Emir HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani has directed its government to provide immediate medical support to Nepal. The Qatar government has been offering support to underdeveloped nations to fight the pandemic.[41]

Provincial and Local Governments

Health Care Services: According to Ram Binaya Shah, in charge of the Provincial Public Health Laboratory at the Provincial Hospital in Janakpur, they stopped testing via PCR machine when it came out with a fault in COVID-19 test. A swab of youth in Janakpur showed negative results while the same swab showed a positive report from Teku, Kathmandu. The same machines have been set up in different laboratories in Pokhara, Butwal, Surkhet, and Dhangadhi.[42]

Gosaikunda Rural Municipality, Rasuwa, started a campaign to provide door-to-door healthcare services to all residents of the local unit. According to the chairman of the rural municipality, the aim of door-to-door service is to provide health service to more than 200 people who have come from back to the village from outside. During the campaign, the health workers are screening the villagers for fever and other symptoms of COVID-19 and also distributing masks and soaps.[43]

Even after a month-long nationwide lockdown, Province 2 has not built any hospitals so far. The province is also facing a shortage of health workers and medical supplies. The province is dependent on Narayani Sub-Regional Hospital and Janakpur Zonal Hospital.[44]

On April 28, a cabinet meeting of Gandaki Pradesh decided to provide insurance coverage worth Rs three million to the health workers in case of their death during treatment of COVID-19. A meeting also decided to construct Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in all 11 districts of the province.[45]

Province 5 government is mobilizing Homeopathy/Ayurveda doctors to reduce the panic and stress and to increase the immunity of the doctors, general people, and security forces who are mobilized in the COVID-19.[46] The doctors help to reduce stress management through Yoga and meditation.

The Ministry of Social Development of Suduprashchim Pradesh set up a 50-bed isolation building in Mahakali Hospital to prevent and control COVID-19.[47]

Relief Package: Provincial governments distributed a relief package worth Rs one million for rural municipality, Rs 1.5 million for municipality, Rs 2 million for sub-metropolitan city, and Rs 2.5 million for metropolitan city. Now, some local people have not received a relief package while one month has been completed to send relief packages in the Palika. Despite the instruction of the government to provide only relief materials, some local governments have distributed cash.[48]

Development Issues: Karnali Pradesh started the budget preparation of policy and program for the coming fiscal year 2077/78. The province started preparations to bring a budget of Rs 32 billion. The provincial government decided to open essential administrative offices during lockdown for the preparation of policy and program.[49]

On April 22, the District Crisis Management Committee in Baglung instructed the local governments to remove the roadblocks it is facing difficulties to move essential services such as ambulances and vehicles carrying goods, the committee said.[50] Due to roadblocks, people are facing so many difficulties in the sense the locals have to remove such activities.

Gender, Social Inclusion, Human Rights, and Migration

Sexual and Reproductive Health during COVID-19 pandemic: According to a report released by the United Nation Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), millions of women will lose access to family planning services due to the lockdown to control spread of COVID-19. The report shows that 47 million women in 114 low and middle income countries will be deprived of access to modern contraceptives. The projection also suggests that 31 million additional cases of gender based violence will be reported if the lockdown continues for six months.[51]

Violence and Domestic Abuse Cases: Number of violence against women in Province 5 has increased in the nationwide lockdown. During 26 days of lockdown, the province reported 20 cases of rape. Most of the perpetrators were family members and relatives of the victims. Similarly, 11 women have reported domestic violence case, and 30 people have committed suicide in the province.[52]

NHRC urges government to study migrant workers: National Human Rights Commission urged government to conduct a rapid survey on stranded migrant workers in foreign lands. The survey will help to understand their actual situation and assess their needs amid the pandemic. The workers are suffering physically and mentally due to the loss of their working hours/job and fear from infection.[53] 

Declining remittance: The World Bank said remittance flow will decline by 20% worldwide and 14% in Nepal because of the Coronavirus lockdown. Many Nepali migrant workers have lost their jobs in several countries. Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) also projected that in the current fiscal year, remittance will not cross Rs 800 billion.[54]   

Shortage of medicine in Jajarkot: There is an acute shortage of medicine in Jajarkot amidst the lockdown. Most of the pharmacies of the district are closed because of the shortage of all the medicines. The open pharmacies of both headquarters and rural areas are also facing scarcity of medicine including those used by the patient of asthma, hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases.[55]

Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pixabay


[1] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/41890/2020-04-23

[2] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/23/158760288005995749.html

[3] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/41884/2020-04-22

[4] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/22/158756979571566815.html

[5] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/857936

[6] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/857832

[7] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/857915

[8] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/22/158755114277356914.html

[9] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/04/27/factions-fail-to-see-eye-to-eye-leaving-oli-in-a-tenuous-position-in-the-ruling-party

[10] http://annapurnapost.com/news/154536

[11] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/24/158769750595428268.html

[12] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/janata-samajwadi-party-nepal-mps-abduction-case-a-hot-potato/

[13] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/857943

[14] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/29/parliamentary-committees-convene-after-lockdown-break

[15] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/lockdown-extended-until-may-7/

[16] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/nepal-extends-suspension-of-domestic-international-flight-until-may-15-cabinet-to-decide-on-lockdown-easing-extension/

[17] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/former-secretary-upadhyaya-released-on-bail/

[18] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/radio-nepal-deletes-former-pm-bhattarai-s-interview-critical-of-pm-oli-here-is-the-interview-in-full/

[19] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/04/24/repealing-the-ordinances-might-quell-dissent-but-oli-still-faces-moral-questions

[20] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/lockdown-will-continue-until-covid-19-cases-are-brought-under-control-pm/

[21] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/04/27/tough-times-ahead-for-oli-as-party-likely-to-ask-him-to-choose-between-leading-the-country-and-leading-the-party

[22] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/amid-escalating-tension-oli-faces-secretariat-meeting-today.html

[23] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/04/23/udayapur-is-a-ticking-time-bomb-warn-doctors-as-more-covid-19-cases-are-identified

[24] https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/10000-covid-19-test-kits-to-nepal-from-singapore/

[25] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/24/nepalis-in-london-on-the-receiving-end-of-xenophobia-amidst-covid-19-fears

[26] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/25/all-international-and-domestic-flights-to-remain-suspended-until-may-15

[27] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/26/health-ministry-recommends-extending-the-lockdown-by-a-week-or-allowing-the-provinces-to-decide-on-their-own

[28] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/04/28/public-health-experts-suggest-more-pcr-tests-as-they-call-into-question-the-efficacy-of-rapid-test-kits

[29] https://kathmandupost.com/sudurpaschim-province/2020/04/29/nepalis-stranded-in-india-continue-to brave-mahakali-river-to-return-home

[30] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/29/measles-outbreaks-reported-in-five-districts-including-in-kathmandu-and-lalitpur-in-last-one-month

[31] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/22/india-gifts-23-tonnes-of-essential-medicines-to-nepal-to-fight-covid-19

[32] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/india-gifted-some-medicines-to-nepal-but-two-of-them-are-not-approved.html

[33] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/23/91163/

[34] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/23/91165/

[35] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/27/rights-body-urges-government-to-study-situation-of-nepalis-stranded-in-foreign-countries

[36] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/27/91917/

[37] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/26/91857/

[38] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/25/91563/

[39] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/25/91523/

[40] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/27/92068/

[41] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/28/92318/

[42] http://annapurnapost.com/news/154130

[43] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-3/2020/04/25/gosaikunda-rural-municipality-starts-providing-door-to-door-health-services

[44] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/858076

[45]  https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-4/2020/04/28/158806468871439972.html

[46] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-5/2020/04/29/158812995969026683.html

[47] https://nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/41940/2020-04-23

[48] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/858885

[49] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/04/858719

[50] https://kathmandupost.com/gandaki-province/2020/04/25/in-baglung-district-crisis-committee-orders-locals-to-clear-fences-set-up-at-entry-points-to-ward-off-the-movement-of-people

[51] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/over-47-million-women-could-lose-access-to-contraception-leading-to-7-million-unintended-pregnancies-across-the-world-in-the-coming-months-unfpa/

[52] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-5/2020/04/29/in-province-5-sexual-harassment-and-domestic-abuse-cases-are-getting-more-severe

[53] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/27/rights-body-urges-government-to-study-situation-of-nepalis-stranded-in-foreign-countries

[54] https://ekantipur.com/business/2020/04/24/158769457376172712.html

[55] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/jajarkot-reeling-under-medicine-crunch/

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