COVID-19

News Digest (May 7 – May 13, 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: After Prime Minister Oli stormed out of the party secretariat meeting following a disagreement, the much-asked-for standing committee meeting seemed uncertain.[1] This suggested that NCP’s debate resurfaced after Oli showed his intention to postpone the meeting.[2]

Standing Committee Meeting: Despite the uncertainty over NCP’s standing committee meeting, its 20 members prepared their agenda for it,[3] and the meeting scheduled for 11 am on May 13 was called off yet again, citing the reason that one of the security personnel of Bhim Rawal tested positive for COVID-19.[4]

Former House Speaker Subash Nembang warned that any effort made to bring down Prime Minister Oli will dismantle NCP’s unity.[5]

Federal Parliament: The Budget Session: The annual budget session of the federal parliament kicked off on May 8, 2020.[6] Prime Minister Oli, however, skipped the first day of the session and, therefore, his address to the House of Representative. Opposition leaders, including Sher Bahadur Deuba, raised questions over Oli’s absence in the meeting since the first day.[7]

Addressing the first day of the session, Dr Baburam Bhattari urged that PM Oli should resign to protect the country’s democracy as well as his own reputation.[8] Similarly, the Janata Samajwadi leader Rajendra Mahato blasted the government for not doing ‘a pennyworth of work’ despite its two-third majority.[9] NC lawmaker Gagan Thapa registered a proposal in the federal parliament to rescue the Nepalis who are stranded in foreign countries.[10]

The Lipulekh Issue: The Indian government’s inauguration of a trade route on May 8, 2020—passing through Lipulekh, a disputed territory that Nepal and India both claim to be theirs—has birthed a row of political events and protests in the country.[11]

NCP leader Madhav Nepal suggested that Nepal should build fences around its borders to avoid the constant territorial disputes with its neighbors.[12]

Referring to China’s indirect involvement in India’s encroachment over Lipulekh, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa stressed the need to discuss the link-road issue with China as well.[13] Nepali Congress also suggested the government to hold talks with both India and China.[14]

NCP lawmakers registered a resolution proposal in the federal parliament to bring back Lipulekh and increase political and administrative presence in the area.[15]

At a ministry council meeting on May 13, PM Oli stated that he had no information about India constructing a link-road through Lipulekh.[16] Before the PM’s statement, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali had already admitted the government’s knowledge of the ongoing construction since 2012.

Governance

Budget session commences amid Coronavirus crisis: The budget session of the House of Representatives (HoR) took place in Kathmandu on May 8, 2020. Speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota nominated the HoR members Dila Sharma, Man Bahadur Bishwokarma, Radha Gyawali, Rekha Sharma, Renu Yadav, and Som Prasad Pandeya to chair the HoR meeting in the absence of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker as per the House of Representatives Regulation, 2075.[17]

Cabinet meeting discusses government’s policies and programs to be presented on May 15: The cabinet meeting held on May 12, discussed the government’s policies and programs to be presented for the annual budget on May 28. The meeting between the Council of Ministers held at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Baluwatar decided to appeal to President Bidya Devi Bhandari to address the joint meeting of House of Representatives and National Assembly members, at 4:00 pm on May 15. The government’s policies and programs will be presented during the meeting.[18]

Lawmakers test negative: All 440 lawmakers and employees of the Parliament Secretariat who underwent coronavirus test on May 7, have come out negative. The following day, 261 people including 66 House of Representatives, 21 National Assembly members and 174 employees of the Parliament Secretariat underwent PCR tests.[19]

Government set to begin pool testing to trace novel coronavirus infection: The National Public Health Laboratory issued a notice to laboratories across the country to conduct pool testing based on the instruction from the Ministry of Health and Population. The pool testing will be conducted using the PCR method. It costs around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 to conduct a PCR test. These tests will be conducted in 14 laboratories across the country.[20]

International Relations & Foreign Policy

International Relations committee steps in: The International Relations Committee of the Parliament ordered the government to make necessary arrangements to bring back the stranded Nepalis from all parts of India. On May 6, the Committee urged the government to hold bilateral dialogues with the Indian counterpart after the Indians urged the Nepalis at the border to return home. The Committee also sought the government to provide relief to all migrants who are left jobless. Besides, the Committee directed the government to make proper arrangements of medical supplies, lodging, and food at the border.[21]

IMF pledges USD 214 million to balance Nepal’s fiscal needs: The International Monetary Fund has approved MUSD 214 to help Nepal battle the looming economic and balance of payments crisis. The IMF has recognized the blow on Nepal’s tourism and remittance industry following the COVID-19 pandemic. The IMF stressed that Nepal’s priority must be to tackle the human and economic impact. IMF funds will fill the immediate external and fiscal needs of the country.[22]

India inaugurates a road through disputed land; Nepal condemns: On May 8, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road-link through the disputed territory of Lipulekh as the ‘China border’. The three areas of — Kalapani, Susta and, Lipulekh remain controversial, and the announcement of a new link is a massive diplomatic failure. Except for a small briefing from the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi, government officials claimed to have no information regarding the same. Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali asked India for the details but will send an official notice only after receiving a full report.[23]

On May 10, Nepal disagreed with the inauguration of the road as it is against the mutual understanding between the two countries. It also advised India not to carry out activities on Nepal’s territory. The Foreign Ministry of Nepal issued a statement stating that Lipulekh is a part of Nepal according to the Sugauli Treaty. The directive also read that India’s decision was unilateral and not as discussed by the Prime Ministers of both the countries. Despite two invitations to hold dialogue with the Indian counterpart, the southern neighbour has not reverted.[24]

Writ for the encroached land filed in the Supreme Court: To regain control of Lipulekh, a writ petition was filed at the Supreme Court. ‘The writ demands a mandamus order’ to immediately return the encroached land to Nepal. The writ was filed in the name of PMO, Council of Ministers, Home Ministry, Defence Ministry, Foreign Ministry, and Ministry of Land Management and Cooperatives by Lawyers Lokendra Oli, Dipendra Adhikari, and Keshar Jung KC as defendants.[25]

Anti-Indian sentiments in Nepal: According to leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, the encroachment and construction of a road link via Lipulekh will ignite anti-Indian sentiments in Nepal. He mentioned the ‘frequent undue behaviour’ of the Indian counterpart previously also has kindled such sentiments. Nepal expressed that India should not carry out construction in the disputed area and that this incident suggests India’s attitude towards smaller nations. He recommended the government to act ‘boldly’ and that the government should take up the issue immediately.[26]

Nepal sends diplomatic note to India: After Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement on May 9, objecting to the inauguration of the road via Lipulekh, Nepal sent a diplomatic note to the Indian Ambassador Vijay Mohan Kwatra clearing its stance on the issue. Likewise, the Nepal Embassy in Delhi handed over a copy of the note to India’s External Affairs Ministry. The note highlights the positive relations between the countries and has called for bilateral dialogue to resolve the issue at the earliest. Minister Gyawali stated he would hold talks with China later. He expressed willingness to talk with any level and pushed for the nearest time to hold talks.[27]

Chinese Embassy’s directive for the Chinese in Nepal: The Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu urged its citizens to sternly abide by the rules and regulations issued by the Nepal government. Following a conflict between the Chinese nationals and Nepali police near Singha Durbar, the Embassy asked its citizens to cooperate with the regulations imposed in Nepal. The Chinese citizens are stranded in Kathmandu compelling them to protest, and thus resulting in an encounter.[28]

China amends its tweet: Earlier in May, China Global Television Network (CGTN) claimed, through twitter, that Mount Everest, the world’s largest peak, is located in Tibet. However, CGTN corrected its earlier tweet and revised it to the Nepal-China border after uproar on social media.[29]

Security

Tension intensified at Nepal-India border after Indian nationals attacked the APF post: Tension rose at Nepal-India border at the area adjoining Suvarna Rural Municipality-2 of Bara district. The Armed Police Force (APF) of Nepal stopped two Indian nationals who were reportedly attempting to enter Nepal violating the laws of the ongoing lockdown. The Indian nationals allegedly attacked the police post with stones and even brought back up from a nearby Indian village for assistance.[30]

Health experts warn the possibility of multiple outbreaks if efforts are not ramped up: Health experts expressed serious concerns over multiple outbreaks if contact tracing efforts are not bolstered. Experts argue that although the situation has been manageable thus far, spread across communities will make it difficult to control and trace contacts. They complained about the lack of coordination among agencies under the federal, provincial, and local levels in their efforts to mitigate risks before the spread.[31]

Nepal condemns India’s opening of unilateral road link via Lipulekh: The government of Nepal made a statement through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing concern over the Indian Ministry of Defence’s announcement that Defence Minister Raj Nath Singh inaugurated the link road from Dharchula to Lipulekh, identifying Lipulekh as a Chinese border on May 8, 2020. This also prompted reactions in Nepal with many criticising the government’s failure to resolve border issues with India.[32]

Preparations to set up APF outpost near Kalapani underway: An Armed Police Force (APF) border outpost (BOP) is being set up near Kalapani area at Chhangru in Darchula district. Although the decision for the set up was made last November, it had been delayed following the lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The BOP construction became a priority following India’s Ministry of Defence’s announcement of a road that has been constructed from Pithoragarh to Manasarovar of China passing through the disputed territories of Kalapani and Lipulek.[33]

Cyber Bureau cautions against sharing personal information: Cyber Bureau of Nepal Police urged the public to be mindful regarding calls and emails that claim to be from the ‘Cyber Crime’ or ‘Cyber Security’ but are in fact fraudulent efforts to collect private information for misuse. The Bureau urged everyone to remain vigilant and contact the nearest police station if they receive such calls or emails.[34]

Nepal records the biggest jump in Covid-19 cases: Nepal reported 83 cases of COVID-19 on May 11, with the total number of cases reaching 217. The following day, the Health Ministry confirmed 26 new cases. According to reports, 18 individuals in Parsa, two each in Mahottari, Dhanusha, and Bhaktapur and one each in Kathmandu and Sarlahi tested positive for the virus. This is the highest number of confirmation of virus transmission in a single day in Nepal.[35]

Parsa now has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country at 82. So far, 35 cases are reported in Province 1, 10 in Bagmati, two in Gandaki, 70 in Province 5, and five in Sudurpaschim. Karnali is the only province without any reported case yet. Likewise, 31 recovered people were sent home, and three were readmitted after they tested positive for the virus in the retests.[36]

Provincial and Local Governments

COVID-19 Issues: The Province 2 government released Rs two billion for five provincial ministries to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19. The ministries are using the fund to buy health equipment. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Planning reported that Province 2 is under high risk of COVID-19. Apart from this, the provincial government set up a fund worth Rs 250 million for the control and prevention of COVID-19.[37]

Sudurpaschim Province restarted the testing of COVID-19 tests on May 9, which remained halted due to the unavailability of the testing kits.[38]

Economic and budget issues: All seven provincial governments are preparing the budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2020/21. Gandaki Pradesh is trying to prepare a budget that does not surpass the current fiscal year’s budget. Similarly, Karnali Province and Province 1 are reducing the budget size for the coming fiscal year, whereas Province 2, Gandaki Pradesh, Province 5, and Sudurpashchim Pradesh are trying to increase the budget.[39]  

On May 9, the cabinet meeting of Karnali Pradesh collected suggestions in the budget session from Members of Parliament for the upcoming fiscal year 2020/21, to be held on May 24, 2020. Karnali Province will prioritize public health, agriculture, and providing employment in its budget. There is a constitutional provision that the provincial governments should present their policies and programs on May 14, 2020.[40]

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) projected the economic growth rate of the seven provinces for the current fiscal year 2019/20. Sudurpaschim Pradesh contributed to the higher economic output of 4.08% than other provinces. Bagmati Pradesh had the lowest growth projection of 1.23%. The World Bank has forecast the economic growth rate at an average of 2.28%.[41]

Gender, Social Inclusion, Human Rights, and Migration

Vaccination Program in Dhading: After two children died of measles, a special vaccination program was launched in Dhading district, amidst nationwide lockdown, to control and prevent measles. Around 22,000 children were vaccinated.[42] Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has directed the government to resume all vaccination programs which were postponed due to the lockdown.[43]

Lockdown and mental health: According to a study supported by the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal, the lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19 has severely affected people’s mental health. The study was conducted with a sample size of 2,082 people. Among them, 18% of the respondents suffered from restlessness, 37% from anxiety, and 18% experienced fearfulness. Similarly, 29% experienced a feeling of sadness.[44]

Four lakh migrant workers likely to return: According to a report prepared by the Foreign Employment Board of Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Security, about 4,07,000 migrant workers are likely to return home from Bahrain, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia due to the general amnesty given by destination countries, visa expiry, and the pandemic. Among them, 127,000 are vulnerable and need immediate rescue. However, accountable ministries are yet to make any decision regarding them.[45]

Malaysia directed migrant workers to leave the country: Once the Malaysian lockdown is lifted, the Malaysian Immigration Department directed all the migrant workers with expired visas (since January 1) to leave the country within 14 days. Director General at the Department of Foreign Employment assured to manage necessary arrangements to repatriate them after the lockdown ends in both countries.[46]

Repatriation of migrant workers: A motion of public importance has been registered in Parliament which seeks safe repatriation of migrant workers who were granted a general amnesty and have lost their jobs in destination countries amid the pandemic. The proposal was tabled by opponent leader Gagan Thapa and supported by Dila Sangraula and Prakash Rasaily. The proposal also recommended the government to collect the data of affected migrant workers and their condition and arrange for their rescue, test, and quarantine.[47]

Sexualization of women on Reddit: In Nepalibabes, a sub-community on Reddit – a social media website, Nepali women have been sexualized and objectified by the members of the group. The members uploaded non-consensual pictures of women on the platform and passed heinous comments. There are almost 4,500 users, who also tried to hack womens’ social media accounts to get access to their photographs. According to Senior Superintendent of the Cyber Crime Bureau, Nabindra Aryal, the case is under investigation.[48]

Photo: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


[1] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/42846/2020-05-07

[2] http://annapurnapost.com/news/155208

[3] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/42908/2020-05-08

[4]  https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/13/158934316500127856.html

[5] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/861876

[6] http://annapurnapost.com/news/155223

[7] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/05/12/opposition-demands-answer-from-government-why-oli-is-skipping-house-meetings

[8] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/08/158894121054288343.html

[9] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/08/15889397821172537.html

[10] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/11/158918965828694207.html

[11] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/09/158898585576851907.html

[12] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/11/158917131720937704.html

[13] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/minister-thapa-urges-govt-to-initiate-talks-with-china-to-resolve-link-road-dispute/

[14] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/43169/2020-05-12

[15] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/10/158911148857783995.html

[16] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/12/158928936650351945.html

[17] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/budget-session-commences-amid-coronavirus-crisis/

[18] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/cabinet-meeting-discusses-govts-policies-and-programmes-to-be-presented-on-may-15/

[19] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/lawmakers-test-negative/

[20] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/government-set-to-begin-pool-testing-to-trace-novel-coronavirus-infection/

[21] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/06/94187/

[22] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/07/94257/

[23] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/08/india-opening-a-road-via-lipulekh-a-territory-that-nepal-claims-is-a-diplomatic-failure

[24] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/09/nepal-objects-to-india-s-unilateral-opening-of-road-link-via-lipulekh

[25] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/11/95415/

[26] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/11/95225/

[27] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/12/nepal-makes-its-position-clear-on-lipulekh-with-a-diplomatic-note-to-india

[28] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/09/chinese-embassy-urges-its-citizens-to-abide-by-lockdown-measures-and-calls-on-neapli-side-to-protect-their-legitimate-rights-and-interests

[29] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/cgtn-revises-tweet-on-chomolungma-says-peak-located-in-china-nepal-border/

[30] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/border-tense-as-indian-citizens-attack-apf-post-in-bara/

[31] https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/05/08/health-experts-warn-of-multiple-outbreaks-if-contact-tracing-efforts-are-not-ramped-up

[32] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/09/nepal-objects-to-india-s-unilateral-opening-of-road-link-via-lipulekh

[33] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/preparation-made-to-set-up-bop-near-kalapani/

[34] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/cyber-bureau-urges-cautiousness-in-sharing-personal-information/

[35] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/with-83-cases-today-covid-19-tally-soars-to-217-in-nepal/

[36] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/12/57-new-covid-19-cases-confirmed-the-highest-in-a-single-day-national-tally-soars-to-191

[37] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-2/2020/05/08/158892174319739191.html

[38] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-7/2020/05/09/158900019365725130.html

[39] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-6/2020/05/10/158910513460349592.html

[40] https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-6/2020/05/10/158910513460349592.html

[41] https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/05/863351

[42] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/mass-vaccination-campaign-against-measles-rubella-rolled-out-in-dhading/

[43] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/sc-directs-govt-to-resume-vaccination-of-children/

[44] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/lockdown-casts-a-long-shadow-on-people-s-mental-health-nationwide-survey/

[45] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/05/07/158881692093682346.html

[46] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/malaysia-breather-for-illegal-migrants/

[47] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/11/motion-tabled-in-parliament-to-repatriate-nepali-migrant-workers

[48] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/05/07/for-nepali-women-rampant-objectification-and-sexualisation-on-the-internet

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