Authorities rely more on ad hoc and centralised mechanism

Kathmandu, April 25

The government has not been able to prevent the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic mainly because it has not done anything in the past one year to federalise the government's COVID-19 response.

Constitutional lawyer Budhi Karki said the government had to invoke Disaster Risk Management Act-2017 to effectively control the pandemic. This act defines pandemic as a non-natural disaster. The government has invoked only Infectious Disease Act to control the pandemic.

"In the past one year, the government had the option of federalising the government's response to COVID-19, but the government failed to do so, as it relied on ad hoc and centralised mechanism," he said. He added that the federal government and the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre kept issuing directives to the provincial and local governments, but did not give those governments fund, functionaries (civil servants), discretionary powers, and autonomy to deal with the pandemic.

Federalising COVID-19 response as per Disaster Risk Management Act would have required enactment of new laws in all three tiers of governments and setting up new institutions.

Karki said federal nations were initially found wanting while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but later the USA showed the way when it federalised its response.

India has still not been able to improve its preparedness mainly because provinces have not been able to play a bigger role, he argued.

Public health expert Sujan Babu Marhatta said although the new variants of COVID-19 were found to be spreading faster than the earlier variant and causing severe reaction among the infected people, the government did not need to bring new measures to control the disease except strictly enforcing safety protocols, such as encouraging people to wash their hands frequently, using sanitisers, maintaining social distance, and avoiding crowded places.

He said lockdown should be imposed only as a last resort to break the chain of infection, but at present there was no need to impose lockdown. "The government may impose lockdown in COVID-19 clusters or hotspots, but not nationwide lockdown," he added.

Former Director of Health Directorate at the Ministry of Health and Population Sushilnath Pyakurel said the main reason why the government had not been able to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 was its failure to let doctors call the shots.

"Epidemiology and Disease Control Division had been able to control all pandemics before and it could successfully deal with COVID-19. The government, however, did not trust the EDCD and formed CCMC under a deputy prime minister," he said.

He said provincial governments and public health chiefs in districts were not given any major role, resources, or responsibility, resulting in the government's failure to control the pandemic.

Meanwhile, CPN-UML Spokesperson Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said the government was trying to focus on enforcing health protocols and not imposing nationwide lockdown. He said the economy was slowly getting better and the government did not want to want to harm the economic recovery process, resulting in loss of employment.

The government may consider imposing curfew in hotspots if lockdown measures there do not prove to be effective, he added.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 26, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.