The only way out to bring the virus under full control is to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the population without delay

As the country grapples with an acute shortage of anti-COVID-19 vaccines and medical equipment, following a sudden surge in the coronavirus since February, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari took the initiative to hold telephonic conversation with her Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on Wednesday and requested him to provide the much-needed vaccines – either in the form of grant or through procurement at government-to-government level – for the control and prevention of the disease that has already claimed the lives of more than 6,800 people as of yesterday. President Bhandari has also written a letter to her Indian counterpart, Ram Nath Kovind, for the delivery of the vaccines, for which Nepal has already paid to Serum Institute of India that produces the Covishield vaccine. Since Nepal launched its vaccination campaign with doses gifted by India in late January, only around 5 per cent of the total population has been vaccinated so far. Earlier, the government had planned to vaccinate around 72 per cent of the population within three months, or April-end.

But the government could not meet its target following the surge of the second wave of the coronavirus in India. During the phone conversation with Bhandari, Chinese President Xi announced that China would provide 1 million vaccine doses – Vero Cell manufactured by Sinopharm – in grant assistance to Nepal. China had earlier gifted 8 lakh anti-COVID vaccines.

According to a press release issued by MoFA, Xi assured President Bhandari that China would accord top priority to Nepal in vaccine support and cooperation.

The presidents of Nepal and China also exchanged views on overall bilateral relations, including matters of cooperation during the time of the COVID crisis. President Bhandari thanked the Chinese government for its continued support to Nepal in its fight against COVID-19 by providing life-saving medicines, medical equipment and supplies.

President Bhandari also requested the Chinese government to facilitate the procurement of COV- ID-19 vaccines. The Nepali Embassy in Beijing and officials at Sinopharm have been holding discussion regarding the quantity, cost and time it will take to transport the vaccines to Nepal. Acknowledging the difficulties facing Nepal due to the resurgence of the second wave of the pandemic, the Chinese President expressed full support of his government to Nepal in its fight against COVID-19.

We can save the lives of thousands of people if the government is able to roll out the approved vaccines to a large section of the population within a short period of time. The government should also ask the UN to provide the 3 million doses of vaccines Nepal is entitled to under COVAX programme. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu has also given assurances to provide the third lot of Covishield vaccines by June as India is poised to double vaccine production. Although the prohibitory orders taken by the government since April 29 has, to some extent, helped break the chain of COVID-19 infections, the only way out to bring the coronavirus under full control is to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the total population without delay.

Follow the standard

The indiscriminate extraction of river-based natural resources, namely sand, stones and pebbles, has led to environmental degradation in many of the country. The local levels can generate resources for themselves by selling these resources, but there are certain standards to follow, which most have not adhered to. The standards prohibit the extraction and collection of river and mine-based products from an area close to a dense settlement, forest, a highway or a bridge. By throwing caution to the wind, many a river has altered its course, while irrigation systems have been affected. Haphazard mining of stones and sand has also invited floods and landslides in settlements.

Now the Commission for the Invesitgation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has forwarded a six-point suggestion to the federal and provincial governments regarding the extraction, collection and processing of river-based natural resources. The anti-graft body has suggested everyone abide by the prevailing Mines and Mineral Act and the Standard on extraction and sale of sand, stones and pebbles. It is only right that both the government and the parties should see to it that they are duly followed.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 28, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.