Nepal launched its eagerly-awaited COVID-19 vaccination drive on Wednesday, becoming the second country after India in the SAARC region to take the initiative. On the first day, a little more than 9,000, mostly frontline healthcare workers took the anti-COVID jab at the 93 immunisation centres in 62 hospitals spread over across seven provinces. The government intends to vaccinate 430,000 people in the first phase of the vaccination programme with the one million Covishield doses gifted by the Indian government last week. India went on a mass immunisation drive a week ago with the vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India. With less than 10,000 people being vaccinated on the first day in Nepal, it is too early to talk about any side effects of the vaccine, although, according to doctors, some are expected to experience raised body temperature, headache or nausea after the inoculation. The government has an ambitious target of vaccinating 72 per cent of its citizens above 15 years of age in the next three months for free. If it were to realise its promise, this will greatly improve the standing of KP Oli in the mid-term elections should the Supreme Court rule in favour of the dissolution of the House of Representatives.

Now that the vaccination drive has begun, the country cannot afford to stop mid-way for lack of vaccines. Hence, the government has the onus to have a steady supply of vaccines ready in the country, either procured in the international market or gotten through grants. Quite a few countries, such as India, China and Russia, had shown interest in supplying the vaccines developed in their countries. And the government is said to have set aside almost Rs 50 billion for the vaccination programme that includes vaccine procurement, storage and supply costs. However, at the moment, these countries as well as the developed world have initiated mass immunisation programmes, so procuring the vaccines in time would require a vaccine diplomacy, not just money, if the immunisation programme is to be over in the next three months.

While both the government and the people are looking at the vaccine as a panacea for the coronavirus disease, it remains to be seen if it will turn out this way. With new variants of the coronavirus surfacing that tend to spread more easily, it is good to take even more precautions than before. So until it is certain that the vaccines are effective, people should follow the health protocols prescribed by the government, namely wearing masks, washing hands regularly and maintaining physical distance. However, with the local levels urging schools to reopen, without adequate preparations, local transport throwing caution to the wind, and shops and restaurants back to business as before the pandemic, they are becoming fertile grounds for the spread of the coronavirus. Worse still, the political turmoil in the country since the dissolution of the House of Representatives on December 20 has spawned demonstrations, protests and mass gatherings almost on a daily basis across the country.

Thus, if the people are not careful, doctors warn of a second wave of the virus, which could annul all the efforts we have made so far to bring the coronavirus under control.

Until it is certain that the vaccines are effective, people should follow the health protocols prescribed by the government

Extrajudicial killings

The four United Nations special rapporteurs have sought clarification from the Government of Nepal over the extrajudicial killings of six persons between October 2019 and August 2020. They were killed in Rautahat, Jhapa, Dhanusha, Siraha, Mahottari and Kapilvastu districts. Five of them were killed in police custody while the sixth one in Kapilvastu was killed when the police fired shots indiscriminately during an idol immersion procession in 2019.

The four rapporteurs have expressed grave concern at the use of lethal force by the security forces, alleged arbitrary arrests, the ill-treatment and deplorable conditions that the detainees were reportedly subjected to, leading to their deaths in custody.

They have asked the Government of Nepal to provide clarifications regarding the allegations of extrajudicial killings within 60 days beginning January 18. It has also been asked to provide detailed reports of the results. Extrajudicial killing is quite common in Nepal as the security personnel are rarely held accountable for misusing their power. It is deplorable that those persons were killed in police custody. It is the duty of the state to protect the lives of its citizens.