A 50 per cent allowance for frontline health workers and medical staffers should motivate them to work harder at this time

Though belated, the government has swung into action to add thousands of beds across the country to treat a deluge of serious COVID-19 patients. In an address to the nation on Monday, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that since people's lives were the first priority of the government, the new building of Bir Hospital, Military Hospital at Mahankal, medical colleges in the capital and big government and private hospitals would be turned into COVID hospitals.

The Nepali Army has also been directed to set up 1,000-bed temporary COVID-19 hospitals in Kathmandu and all the seven provinces. The Prime Minister has also directed the provincial governments to operate medical colleges and big hospitals as COVID hospitals. In another positive move, the government is to hire retired doctors and health workers to deal with the surge in new infections. And a 50 per cent allowance for frontline health workers and medical staffers that the government has promised should motivate them to work harder in this difficult and risky time.

The unprecedented spike in fresh coronavirus cases and deaths in recent days has overwhelmed the country's health system and could lead to its collapse unless the government acts on a war footing to deal with the situation. On Monday, the health authorities diagnosed 7,388 new COVID-19 cases, with half of them recorded in the Kathmandu Valley. Monday also witnessed the highest number of deaths from coronavirus infection – 37 – since the pandemic started more than a year ago. Thus, apart from adding hospital beds for corona patients, no time is to be lost in converting public venues such as stadiums, auditoriums, party palaces, hotels, factories and warehouses into quarantine facilities, isolation and holding centres. The government measures to tackle the corona outbreak, as outlined by the Prime Minister in his address, had been explored and thrashed out by the concerned bodies and experts for quite some time, and give priority to the protection of people's health over that of the economy.

While the addition of thousands of new beds for COVID patients will greatly ease the current pressure on the hospitals, it is important that the prohibitory orders are strictly enforced to break the chains of COVID-19 transmission. Although the city streets are now quite empty of vehicles and pedestrians, the inner lanes are still crowded with people wandering and shops staying open. There are also media reports of people having travelled by bus or plane to reach their homes even after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Thus, massive testing not only in the 41 districts under complete or partial restrictions but elsewhere as well will need to be carried out to stop the spread of the virus in the community. It is clear that Nepal's efforts alone cannot overcome the coronavirus.

We need global support, as appealed by the PM to our neighbouring countries and the international community for vaccines, diagnostic equipment and kits, oxygen therapy, and critical care medicines and furniture, to combat the pandemic. The sooner they respond, the quicker we will succeed in bringing the second wave of the coronavirus under control.

Minimum wages

The government has decided to raise the minimum monthly wage by more than 11 per cent to Rs 15,000 from Rs 13,450, as announced by the PM to mark International Labour Day. The new monthly wage will come into force from mid-July. The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security has stated that Rs 9,385 will be the basic salary while Rs 5,615 will be inflation allowance. This means a worker in Nepal will earn minimum Rs 577 per day and Rs 77 per hour on average.

In addition to the prescribed wages, the industries or organisations are required to provide additional facilities, such as provident fund and allowances as per the Labour Act. The decision, which was published in the Nepal Gazette on Monday, bars the local levels from fixing the minimum salary at less than Rs 15,000. Despite the government decision, most of the workers who are engaged in the service sector, such as hotels and the hospitality business, are paid onefourth of their salary due to the closure of businesses. However, the workers involved in the construction sector are getting more than the one fixed by the government. It is a welcome move that the monthly wage has been increased to adjust the inflation rate.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 5, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.