Now, the govt must focus on immunising children in the 12-18 age group, who are at high risk of coronavirus infection

If everything goes according to plan, the government will have immunised one-third of the eligible population against the coronavirus by October 17, or during the Dashain festival. As of now, 30 per cent of the targeted population has received the first dose of vaccines while 28 per cent has already received their second shot. Nepal started giving anti-COV- ID-19 vaccines to its people on January 27, becoming one of the first countries in South Asia to do so. The Ministry of Health and Population and its related agencies have been vaccinating people on a daily basis in every nook and corner of the country. Bagmati Province has the highest number of people receiving double vaccine doses, which stands at 34 per cent, while Province 2 has the lowest vaccination rate at 13 per cent. In order to meet its target, the government has accorded top priority to importing vaccines either through grants or procurement.

So far, the government has imported 17.7 million doses of vaccines of different brands from various countries. The government has plans to import 11.3 million doses of vaccines for free under the COVAX facility and an additional 42.3 million doses by mobilising other sources.

The government has the target of immunising around 72 per cent of its eligible population above 14 years of age. Two-thirds of the total eligible population will have been vaccinated by January 14, 2022, and the remaining population will be immunised by April 13, 2022. The target set by the government can be met as there will be no shortage of anti-COVID vaccines in the days ahead. The ministry thinks the coronavirus pandemic can be contained if at least 60 per cent of the targeted population is vaccinated.

With the immunisation drive in full swing, the number of COVID-19 infections and the COVID-related deaths has also declined across the country even though the markets are open. Almost all people above 50 years of age have already received the second shot in the last eight months.

Now, the government must focus on immunising children in the 12-18 age group. For this, the government has already worked out a plan to purchase 100,000 doses of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer pharmaceutical companies. Immunising the children of this age group is a must to open the educational institutes without fear of the pandemic. Nepal is the only country in South Asia to close its schools and colleges for a record number of 57 weeks since the imposition of lockdowns and prohibitory orders, followed by Bangladesh which closed its education sector for 53 weeks. We cannot afford to further shut down our educational institutes even for a week in the days to come as their indefinite closure has pushed back our academic calendar by almost two years, which has had a negative impact on the teaching learning environment. Once we are able to fully vaccinate our eligible population, the national economy will also return to the pre-pandemic level, giving the much-needed respite to the ailing tourism sector that has been hit the hardest. Despite the vaccination of a large section of the population, we should not ignore the health protocols to keep the virus at bay.

Tense flight

Buddha Air was able to avert a mishap on Monday, thanks to an alert pilot, but not without causing untold anxiety among its passengers. The plane had returned to Kathmandu after it was unable to land at Biratnagar despite several attempts as the wheels of the aircraft failed to drop. According to the press statement issued by the private sector airline, the pilot decided to return to Kathmandu after the control tower at Biratnagar airport said that the landing gear had not dropped for landing. The plane landed safety in Kathmandu after circling the valley skies several times to empty its fuel tank as much as possible.

Buddha Air was considered a safe airline, but that did not prevent a fatal crash near Lalitpur in September 2011, killing all 19 passengers and crew on board.

So it was natural for the passengers to panic when the plane on Monday kept flying for nearly two hours with no signs of landing. Coincidentally, another aircraft of Buddha Air also suffered a glitch on Monday, forcing the pilot to return to Kathmandu without making it to its destination, Pokhara. It, thus, behooves the airline to make a thorough inspection of all its aircraft as one technical problem is already one too many for a plane.

A version of this article appears in the print on September 29 2021, of The Himalayan Times.