Covid Pandemic

News Digest (March 26 – April 1, 2020)

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

Domestic Politics

Nepal Communist Party: In a meeting held on March 29, 2020, the High Level Committee decided to extend the national lockdown by a week, until April 7, 2020, and continue the ban on international flights until April 15.[1][2]

NCP General Secretary Bishnu Prasad Paudel urged everyone to help the government in the fight against COVID-19. He insisted that the Nepali people returning from overseas should put themselves under self-quarantine.[3]

President Bidya Devi Bhandari inquired about the situation of the Nepali living in the United States where the COVID-19 crisis is growing exponentially every day.[4]

Senior NCP leaders and ex-deputy Prime Minister Duo, Bhim Rawal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, urged the government to hold high-level discussion with the Indian government to ensure that the Nepali citizens stuck in the Indian-side of the border, due to the lockdowns and the border closures, are being treated well.[5]

Nepali Congress: Nepali Congress, albeit appreciative of the government’s measures to fight the Coronavirus outbreak in Nepal, pointed out that they were not sufficient. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the party president, insisted that that government should bring additional relief packages.[6] Deuba also requested the government to rescue the Nepali people stranded overseas.[7]

Others: Ex-King Gyanendra Shah, on March 31, 2020, donated NRs 20 million to the government fund established for the prevention, control, and treatment of Coronavirus infection.[8]

On March 31, the Supreme Court ordered the ‘government to make arrangements for treatment of COVID-19 at private medical facilities;”[9] there had been reports of private hospitals refusing to treat patients who showed symptoms similar to that of COVID-19.

Governance

Electricity tariff: The government decided to cut the electricity tariff by 20% for households whose power consumption is up to 150 units per month. The decision comes as people are queuing up outside cooking gas depots for hours on end amid the lockdown orders issued by the government to stem the spread of COVID-19. According to the officials at the Ministry of Finance, the ministry decided not to charge 15% customs duty on the induction stoves.[10]

Prime Minister re-hospitalized: Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was re-hospitalized on the morning of March 27, 2020, after he experienced some irregular heartbeats the day before.[11] Oli, who was admitted to Manmohan Cardiothoracic Vascular and Transplant Centre of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, was discharged from the hospital on March 28, 2020. Arun Sayami, senior cardiologist at the centre, said that the Prime Minister is recovering well under medications.[12]

Oli had had his second kidney transplantation on March 4, 2020. He was discharged from the hospital after around 10 days, and the doctors had advised him to avoid any meeting, gathering, and events for the next few months. Oli, however, spent around four hours with other members of the Cabinet during a Cabinet meeting earlier this week.

Plans to reopen Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani border towards China: As China is gradually overcoming the Coronavirus crisis by significantly decreasing the number of infected cases, officials in both Nepal and China have taken initiatives to reopen two major trade points between the countries as soon as possible. In particular, officials on the Nepal side are currently working on the precautions needed to avoid infection because of the trading via Rasuwagadhi and Tatopani border points.[13]

Prisoners to be released due to fear of COVID-19: After the Parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights directed the government to decrease the number of prisoners, the government started releasing several jailbirds to decrease the congestion in jails to minimize the risk of Coronavirus. Majority of criminals convicted of minor crimes and those who have served half their jail time are being freed. Those convicted of serious crimes such as corruption, rape, murder and human trafficking and crimes against the state will not be freed, informs officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs.[14]

Nationwide lockdown extended for one more week: On March 29, the high-level coordination committee decided to extend the nationwide lockdown by a week until April 7 midnight and the ban on international flights until April 15. The committee for the control and prevention of COVID-19, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, took the decisions in view of the rise in the number of new cases of COVID-19.[15]

Supreme Court on COVID-19: The Supreme Court on March 31, 2020, issued an order to the government to make necessary arrangements for the treatment of COVID-19 patients at private hospitals and medical facilities. The order comes amid reports of private hospitals and medical facilities refusing to treat patients showing symptoms similar to COVID-19. The court also ordered the government to make arrangements, including personal protective equipment (PPE), needed for the safety of medical professionals, including the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, cleaners, pharmacists, general workers and security personnel who are at high risks of contracting the disease.[16]

Visit Nepal Year 2020 finally called off: The government formally cancelled the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign, a month after its major promotional activities in the overseas markets were halted, in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, secretary at the Tourism Ministry, told on March 22, said that the government has not announced whether this campaign will be held in the coming years ahead.[17] 

International Relations

Chinese company to provide Nepal with 2,000 COVID-19 kits; the kits do not reach Nepal: Chinese company Beijing Savanta Biotechnology donated 2,000 sets of coronavirus test kits. The company sent the ‘coronavirus antigen detection reagent testing kits’ via Lhasa. Director-General Wang Guoping handed over the kits worth Rs 3.6 million to Nepali Ambassador Sushil Kumar Lamsal on March 25.[18] However, the Chinese government stopped the delivery of the kits midway after finding out the kits didn’t fall under the list of half a dozen kits approved by National Medical Products Administration.[19]

15 Nepalis stranded in Saudi Arabia appeal for rescue: The Nepali migrant workers isolated in Saudi Arabia appealed to the government to rescue them after the Nepali Embassy in Saudi Arabia did not respond to their pleas. The migrants claim to be running out of money and food supplies and are in dire need of rescue. With the government suspending all the international flights to minimise the spread of coronavirus, it is not sure whether the stranded Nepalis will be rescued on time.[20]

Nepal Airlines brought medical kits from China: The government sent a Nepal Airlines aircraft to China on March 29 to bring medical kits to test and treat suspected novel coronavirus patients. A wide-body aircraft of Nepal Airlines flew to Guangzhou to bring the necessary medical equipment. After the equipment arrived, Nepali Army helicopters distributed it to all seven provinces. Nepal brought Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), viral transport medium (VTM), PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test kits, N95 masks, among others.[21] Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi, handed over the medical supplies to Bhanu Bhakta Dahal, Minister for Health and Population.[22]

Qatar airways to lift Germans from Kathmandu: Qatar Airways airlifted German nationals stranded in Nepal on March 28. The German Embassy had earlier requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to arrange for the withdrawal of over 800 German tourists stranded in Kathmandu, Lukla, and Pokhara. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal permitted two flights upon the request of the European Union. The chartered planes also carried French nationals.[23]

US to evacuate its citizens from Nepal: The United States government chartered a flight from Kathmandu on March 31 to evacuate its citizens who were stranded in Nepal due to the nation-wide lockdown. A Qatar Airways aircraft was chartered to take its citizens back to Dulles International Airport. Due to the high number of US nationals in Nepal who are willing to go back, the Embassy is preparing to arrange a second repatriation flight also. The passengers will be prioritised on the basis of their risk level.[24]

Nepal Airlines to repatriate Australians: The Australian authorities cleared Nepal Airlines to fly to Brisbane, Australia to repatriate Australian tourists stuck in Nepal. As per the plan, the carrier will make its maiden 13-hour-long charter flight to Australia on April 1, and all internal preparations are complete. Nepal Airlines will fly with 20 crew members. The Australian embassy had requested the tourism department to charter a flight and it was approved on March 31.[25]

FEB requests foreign returnees to stay in quarantine: The Foreign Employment Board (FEB) urged the foreign returnees to stay in quarantine for the stipulated period as a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic. It also appealed them to meet with their families, friends, and relatives only after the quarantine period is over.[26]

Unable to come back, Nepali migrant workers entering secretively: After the border closures, thousands of Nepali migrant workers have been stranded at Indian Territory. They have been refused entry by Nepal showing health risk of novel Coronavirus. However, many of them are entering the country secretively and are posing health risks amidst COVID-19 pandemic. People who arrived through such routes have been advised to stay under home quarantine. These people are mostly daily wage labourers who returned after India forced a lockdown.[27]

Nepal unhappy with Indian officials who are pushing Nepalis towards the border: Nepal expressed its concerns over the Indian government’s pushing the Nepali migrant workers towards the border. As the lockdown continues, hundreds of Nepalis working in India have come to the Nepal-India border areas demanding that they be allowed to enter Nepal. However, Nepali security personnel have not allowed the entry citing the border closure. Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said that India should have been responsible to keep them safe as per the international diplomatic norms. He claims Nepal has been letting hundreds of Indian citizens stay in Nepal safely during this period and the same is expected of the Indian authorities.[28]

Nepal-India to take care of each other’s citizens: Several Nepali and Indian migrants are desperate to return home, and they are stranded there due to the sealed border. Therefore, Nepal and India agreed to take care of each other’s citizens. The agreement reached is to provide food and shelter to the people. The Oli government has come under fire for failing to anticipate an influx of tens of thousands of Nepalis working and living in India. Around 500 Nepalis remain stranded in Dharchula, and another 400 wait at Sunauli. Similarly around 400 Indian citizens are being kept at Birgunj.[29]

Security & Strategic Affairs

Nepali workers in Qatar continue to live in terrible conditions even during the pandemic: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Qatar imposed a harsh lockdown on camps where migrant workers live in close quarters with inadequate amenities.[30] After cases of COVID-19 started popping up in the industrial area and the camps, Qatar sealed off the workers’ camps to contain the spread of the disease, linked to poor living conditions. Qatar’s desperate attempts to control the spread of the contagious disease have resulted in converting the camps into ‘coronavirus prisons’.

No training or protective gears for health workers on the front lines: As fears continue to grow over the Covid-19 outbreak, more patients are visiting hospitals to get themselves checked out.[31] But the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other health workers who deal with them lack proper protective gear to treat patients who might potentially be carrying the disease. Without proper face masks and body covering, health workers are at risk of contracting the disease themselves, and especially for those who have elderly parents and small children at home, this is a risk they might not be willing to take.

Contact tracing of all who got close with COVID-19 patients continues but time is fast running out: Authorities have said that they have managed to get in touch with 11 of the at least 15 individuals who had come in close contact with the third Nepali national infected with COVID-19.[32] But at a time when authorities are facing criticism for not disseminating information on time, they are also unwilling to conduct tests on those who have come in close contact with the patients. Public health experts say that if the government wants to lessen the risk of transmission, it needs to conduct more tests.

Foreign aid to Nepal could go down due to the pandemic, experts and stakeholders say: Nepal could see a reduction in foreign aid as the pandemic ravages the global economy and eats into the coffers of the developed countries from where most of the money flows, experts say.[33] With the global economy bracing for a recession as the developed economies of the US and Europe become the latest epicentres of the pandemic after Wuhan, China, experts say that foreign aid from the developed countries could go down, and individual contributions to charities could also shrink.

Media’s tendency to link every death to COVID-19 is spreading misinformation and stigma, say doctors: Doctors believe media portals need to exercise caution while publishing stories about the Coronavirus as false reports can be very damaging to the social fabric. Ever since fears over the COVID-19 pandemic began to reach Nepal, there has been an alarming tendency to relate every death and sickness to the coronavirus.[34] While many online news portals are quick to speculate and use click-bait headlines in order to gain anxious visitors during the lockdown, even responsible members, including some respected media outlets both print and online, can be seen spreading misinformation and stigmatising the sick and the deceased.

Eight Nepalis catch COVID-19 in Portugal: Eight Nepalis staying in the Portugese capital, Lisbon, have contracted COVID-19 infection. They shared room in the same flat in Lisbon. One of them had been suffering from fever for the last two weeks.[35] It is said coronavirus infection was confirmed in that person when his health was examined as his fever refused to subside even after taking medicine as advised by health workers. COVID-19 infection was also confirmed in seven of his roommates, said Bhimsen Thapa, the Senior Vice-president of Non Resident Nepalis Association (NRNA) Portugal.

Gender, Social Inclusion, Migration, and Human Rights

Repatriation of dead bodies of migrant workers halt due to the pandemic: After the government banned all international flights to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, repatriation of the death bodies of migrant workers has halted.  On an average, two migrant workers die in foreign lands daily. Rajan Prasad Shrestha, executive director of the Foreign Employment Board, said that it is very difficult to bring bodies and transport to their family due to the international and internal travel restrictions.[36]

Nepali Migrant Workers at Border of Darchula: Because of the nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of Coronavirus pandemic, more than 500 Nepali migrant workers returning from India are stuck on the Indian side of Mahakali River in Dharchula. After India was locked down, those workers walked for three days to go home in Darchula. They have been sloganeering demanding to return home.[37] 

Rights of Migrant Workers: The National Network for Safe Migration released a statement addressing that the government should come up with a plan to ensure adequate and effective health services, basic needs, and safety of migrant workers in the foreign countries.  Now, as thousands of Nepali migrant workers remain stuck in several countries due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it also demanded that the government should coordinate with destination countries to repatriate the workers who want to return.[38]

Right to Food: The Supreme Court on March 30 issued an interim order to the government to guarantee the fundamental rights: right to food to the wage workers whose livelihood has been highly affected by the lockdown.  Demanding relief packages for those workers, advocate Bishnu Luitel filed a petition at Apex Court on March 29.[39]

Relief Packages: The government announced relief packages for low-income workers who have been adversely affected by the lockdown in the country. The government directed provincial and local governments to establish a fund for relief. Similarly, it also directed the Food Management and Trading Company and Salt Trading Limited to provide a 10% discount on rice, lentils, sugar, oil, and salt. The government decided to take loan worth Rs 22 billion from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Asian Development Bank to fight against the pandemic.[40]

Domestic violence during the pandemic: Right activists have shown their concern over the rise in cases of domestic violence during the lockdown across the world.  Many news reports show that there is a significant rise in domestic violence cases being recorded across the world. In Jingzhou, Hubei, domestic violence cases doubled after the province was locked down. According to a United Nation’s report, at least 26% of Nepali women face various forms of domestic violence, and lockdown may make them more vulnerable to the violence.[41]

Provincial and Local Governments

Province 1: According to the Ministry of Social Development, Province 1 set up 2761 quarantine beds. There are 261 people under quarantine, 498 people under home-quarantine, and 16 people in self-isolation. Out of 28 samples tested, 23 have come back negative, and the others are awaiting the test result.[42] Similarly, Dudhkoshi rural municipality of Solukhumbu awards Rs 5,000 to people who informs the police about foreign returnees.[43]

Province 2: On March 29, the cabinet meeting of Province 2 decided to provide food relief package targeting the highly affected group due to the ongoing nationwide lockdown.[44] The meeting also announced to provide Rs 2.5 million for metropolitans, Rs two million for a sub-metropolitans, Rs 1.5 million for a municipalities, and a million for rural municipalities to feed the poor and the vulnerable during the lockdown period.[45]

Bagmati Pradesh: The cabinet meeting of Bagmati Pradesh decided to deposit an additional Rs 40 million in its emergency fund. The meeting announced to provide Rs two million for metropolitan cities, Rs 1.5 million for a sub-metropolitan cities, Rs 1.2 for a municipalities, and one million for rural municipalities to control and prevent the possible spread of COVID-19. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Law, Bagmati Pradesh has prepared 540 isolation beds in 12 districts and several isolations are available in Kathmandu district as well.[46] 

Gadaki Pradesh: Gandaki Pradesh stepped up its effort to set up isolation wards and quarantine facilities in several districts. The local government encouraged its sick people to observe self-isolation in their homes. The Pradesh prepared around 1,000 quarantine and 1220 isolation beds.[47]

Province 5: Local governments of Province 5 set up 2300 beds in 190 local levels in 12 districts. Province has placed around 500 people in quarantine. Local levels, focal person of the health post, chief district officer, and district security agency are monitoring the quarantine.[48]  

Karnali Pradesh: The government of Karnali Pradesh set up 258 isolation beds in eight districts. On March 26, 2020, a cabinet meeting allocated an additional Rs 20 million to control and prevent the spread COVID-19. Karnali Pradesh demanded a lab to be set up for easy testing of COVID-19.[49]

Sudurpashchim Pradesh: On March 28, 2020, a cabinet meeting of Sudurpaschim Pradesh decided to set up laboratories in three districts—Dhangadhi, Baitadi, and Doti – for COVID-19 testing. Sudurpashchim Pradesh also decided to provide Rs 40 million for the provincial emergency fund.[50]

Photo: Image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay


[1] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/29/nationwide-lockdown-extended-until-april-8-ban-on-international-flights-until-april-15

[2] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/lockdown-extended-till-april-7/

[3] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/848964

[4] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/04/01/158570663770858728.html

[5] http://annapurnapost.com/news/151921

[6] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/849733

[7] http://annapurnapost.com/news/151905

[8] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/03/31/158566554459313134.html

[9] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/31/supreme-court-orders-government-to-make-arrangements-for-treatment-of-covid-19-at-private-medical-facilities

[10] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/27/government-to-slash-20-per-cent-electric-tariff-for-households-using-upto-150-units

[11] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/oli-hospitalised-after-irregular-heartbeats.html

[12] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/pm-oli-discharged-health-normal/

[13] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/officials-prepare-to-reopen-rasuwagadhi-tatopani-as-china-gradually-defeats-crisis.html

[14] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/govt-releasing-several-jailbirds-to-avoid-infection.html

[15] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/29/nationwide-lockdown-extended-until-april-8-ban-on-international-flights-until-april-15

[16] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/31/supreme-court-orders-government-to-make-arrangements-for-treatment-of-covid-19-at-private-medical-facilities

[17]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/31/visit-nepal-2020-called-off-finally

[18] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/26/84696/

[19] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/29/85459/

[20] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/26/84692/

[21] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/27/84908/

[22] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/30/85718/

[23] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/27/flight-chartered-by-french-government-flies-out-300-tourists-from-kathmandu

[24] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/us-to-evacuate-its-citizens-from-nepal-tuesday.html

[25]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/31/nepal-airlines-permitted-to-fly-to-brisbane-to-repatriate-australian-citizens

[26] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/30/85800/

[27] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/31/86069/

[28] https://english.onlinekhabar.com/nepal-not-happy-with-india-for-pushing-nepalis-towards-border.html

[29] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/31/nepal-and-india-agree-to-take-care-of-and-feed-each-other-s-citizens-stranded-on-the-border-crossings-to-remain-closed

[30] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/26/nepalis-in-qatar-live-in-overcrowded-and-squalid-conditions-even-during-pandemic

[31] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/03/20/for-health-workers-on-the-front-lines-no-training-and-no-protective-gear

[32] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/03/27/contact-tracing-of-all-who-got-close-with-covid-19-patients-continues-but-time-is-fast-running-out

[33] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/04/01/foreign-aid-to-nepal-could-go-down-due-to-covid-19-pandemic-experts-and-stakeholders-say

[34] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/04/01/media-s-tendency-to-link-every-death-to-covid-19-is-spreading-misinformation-and-stigma-say-doctors

[35] https://risingnepaldaily.com/miscellany/eight-nepalis-catch-covid-19-in-portugal

[36] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/29/repatriation-of-bodies-of-nepali-migrant-workers-who-died-abroad-also-affected-due-to-covid-19

[37] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/over-500-nepali-migrant-workers-stranded-on-border/

[38] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/31/migrants-rights-groups-call-on-government-to-repatriate-and-protect-the-workers-stranded-overseas

[39] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/30/supreme-court-orders-government-to-ensure-vulnerable-people-s-right-to-food

[40] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/relief-for-hunkered-down-populace/

[41] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/03/28/for-many-domestic-violence-survivors-the-lockdown-means-being-locked-in-with-their-abusers

[42] https://www.setopati.com/politics/202643

[43] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-1/2020/03/31/158564303203584666.html

[44] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-2/2020/03/29/province-2-announces-relief-package-to-feed-poor-and-vulnerable-during-lockdown

[45] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-2/2020/03/29/158546600663635206.html

[46] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-3/2020/03/31/158564690924142349.html

[47] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-4/2020/03/30/158557964750924605.html

[48] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/03/848632

[49] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-6/2020/03/28/158539472471442118.html

[50] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-7/2020/03/28/158538711248961181.html

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