While massive outside help will start arriving here sooner than later, prevention is the key to controlling the pandemic

Together with India, Nepal too is becoming the focus of international media attention as both deaths and fresh COVID-19 infections mount, overwhelming the country's already fragile health care system. ICU beds, ventilators and oxygen are in short supply, making the treatment of even the more critical patients difficult. The sudden surge in the number of corona-related deaths in recent days is largely due to a shortage of oxygen at several hospitals. With new infections showing no signs of climbing down yet, it is evident that the Nepal government alone with its meagre resources cannot deal with the situation.

The government has thus appealed to both the international community and Nepali expatriates for help, and help is on its way. On Saturday, Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali held a virtual conference with the heads of diplomatic missions based in 13 countries to secure life-saving medicines, oxygen, vaccines and other help to assist in controlling the second wave of the coronavirus that now plagues 72 of the country's 77 districts.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has mobilised all foreign-based Nepali missions and appealed to our neighbours as well as other friendly countries for assistance.

The Chinese government has responded with an offer of 20,000 much-needed oxygen cylinders and other critical equipment. Earlier, vaccine gifts from India, China and the COVAX programme of the UN helped Nepal launch the immunisation programme, which unfortunately has had to be discontinued after vaccines ran out. Nepal is counting on the European Union and the United States for massive help for medicines, oxygen plants and cylinders, ventilators and makeshift hospitals, among others.

In this difficult period, even migrant workers in the Gulf countries are pooling resources to send back home such medical equipment like oxygen cylinders.

However, bringing critical medical supplies from different parts of the world is proving difficult for lack of regular air services.

While Nepal can rest assured that massive outside help will start arriving here sooner than later, prevention is the key to controlling the pandemic. Nepal is seeing about 8,000 new corona cases every day, with a fifth of those infected needing hospitalisation, who may also require oxygen support or critical care. So no amount of foreign assistance or local resources will suffice if the sick by the thousands just keep on adding day after day. The outbreak of the second wave of the coronavirus has been devastating for neighbouring India and Nepal as the new variant is said to be highly contagious, showing no mercy to young and old people alike. It is not without reason that health experts have been crying themselves hoarse about the need to follow the recommended health protocols, namely wearing a mask, observing physical distancing and washing hands regularly.

Mostly countries that took these measures lightly and failed to enforce lockdowns strictly during the first wave have seen a resurgence of the virus in multiple waves. While the government has no option other than to strictly enforce the prohibitory orders in the country, it must at the same time try to secure vaccines to immunise all its citizens.

Awareness drive

With the entire country fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, the local levels in the rural areas have now realised the severity of the air-borne disease. The number of people suffering from COV- ID-19 was found to be less in the rural areas than in the urban centres when it broke out last year. But the second wave of the virus that started from India in February has reached as far away as the mountain district of Bajura, where many people are reported to have contracted COVID-19.

Considering the public health risk it might pose to the local communities, the local levels, NGOs and civil society members have jointly launched awareness campaigns in Bajura to minimise the impact of the virus. If the people adhere to the health protocols and do not venture out of their homes unnecessarily, the spread of the virus can be controlled. Health experts have warned that the coming three weeks are very crucial. Until then, we need to maintain social distancing, wear face masks and wash hands regularly.

Until vaccines are rolled out to all the people, we need to follow the health guidelines. At the same time, the local levels should also provide health services to the people suffering from COVID-19.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 17, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.