A health emergency might be necessary to bring all health facilities under a single authority to contain the spread of the virus

Nepal is now said to have the highest transmission rate of the coronavirus in the world, a situation that the country can no longer cope with as the entire healthcare system has been strained to the limits.

For weeks now, there has been no let up in the high number of new infections and deaths that are being recorded daily, leading to a shortage of hospital and ICU beds, oxygen cylinders and ventilators. The case fatality rate from COVID-19 in Nepal stands at 1.6 per cent, which is now higher than in neighbouring India. All this means that the prohibitory orders that were enforced almost a month ago in nearly all the districts have not been as effective as envisaged, although one could argue that the situation could have been worse without one. Thus, the decision of the administrative offices of the three districts of the Kathmandu Valley to extend the ongoing prohibitory orders until June 3 with stricter provisions from Friday to break the chain of COVID transmission is welcome, although the harsh measures will be particularly painful for the daily wage earners as in the past.

From Friday, even groceries and departmental stores must shut down. Only shops selling vegetables and fruits and dairy products will be allowed to open, that too till 9 a.m. There will also be fewer movement of vehicles with a stricter provision for getting passes.

Although the prohibitory orders in the Kathmandu Valley came into force on April 29, a steady stream of vehicles could be seen on the streets, with even traffic jams observed at different junctions. In the inner lanes of the cities, people loitered around during the daytime, and although shops remained shuttered, they responded to a mobile call. People are definitely more conscious about the virus during the second wave following a sudden surge in the daily death count since the second week of May. But unless everyone in society abides by the prescribed health protocol and the prohibitory orders, the risk of infection will always be there.

Given the fast spread of the coronavirus in the country and also detection of a related fungal disease, it is imperative that the government act on a war footing to bring the COVID-19 unified central hospital at Bir Hospital into operation as early as possible so as to coordinate all activities related to the disease in the country. In its absence, patients are having to seek treatment in the highly expensive private hospitals, where an ICU bed costs anywhere between Rs 20,000 – 40,000 a day, which is simply unaffordable for the people. As COVID cases continue to surge, the Ministry of Health and Population has hinted at declaring a health emergency. This might be necessary to bring all health facilities, including those in the private sector, under a single authority to contain the spread of the virus and provide treatment at affordable rates. In response to the government's appeal to the international community, medical supplies ranging from oxygen cylinders and concentrators to ventilators and PCR test kits have been arriving in Kathmandu. The government must now be focused on securing vaccines to immunise the remaining population as it is the only known defence against the virus.

Grants for a cause

The Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens recently issued a procedure for providing grants to non-governmental organisations working for the welfare of differently-abled persons. The grants to be provided to eligible organisations through the local levels are meant to increase the access of differently-abled persons to employment opportunities by providing them with skill training and social security.

As per the procedure, such grants will be provided to those organisations that have proven records of imparting skill training to differently-able persons.

According to the 2011 census, around 2 per cent (513,321) of the total population of the country is living with one or other form of disability. But the grants must be given only to those organisations that have gained expertise in the given field and meet the needs of a trainee. A visually-impaired person may need one type of skill training while an amputee will require another type to get an employment opportunity.

Every skill-based training must be person-specific.

The NOGs that provide training to these people should also help them find jobs or provide technical and financial help for self-employment.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 27, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.