The govt of Prime Minister Deuba must count itself lucky that the country possesses the needed infrastructure to tackle the virus

The sudden surge in the number of new COVID-19 cases across the country has health officials worrying, with them warning that the next two weeks will be particularly challenging as the Omicron variant will keep infecting large numbers of people. On Saturday, the country recorded 3,703 new infections, ten times more than the number of cases diagnosed just a fortnight back, although 500 cases less than what were seen on Friday. Accordingly, there has been a steady increase in the number of patients visiting hospitals. However, quite unlike during the second wave of the COVID pandemic, both the government and the people seem to be taking the Omicron virus lightly, considering it to be a mild variant. True, the government ordered all schools to close last week and put a ban on gatherings of more than 25 people.

But, the authorities do not seem to be concerned about enforcing the regulations, with the streets and shops crowded just as during normal times.

The people and the authorities' indifference to Omicron stems from the belief that it is less fatal than the previous variants. Also, according to the Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, 60 per cent of patients visiting the hospital did not require oxygen support. But with the surge in COVID cases in recent days, the number of deaths has also been rising, with one succumbing to the virus on Thursday, three on Friday and four on Saturday. The Omicron may be less fatal compared to the Delta variant, but it is said to show high transmissibility character, capable of infecting even those who have been vaccinated.

The virus is said to infect the upper respiratory tract, as opposed to the Delta virus that infects the lungs, or lower respiratory tract. No matter how mild the virus, the government cannot remain complacent about the challenges ahead. It's been two full years since the pandemic began, and it's far from over.

The incumbent government must count itself lucky that the country possesses the needed infrastructure to tackle the virus. There is no shortage of hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen support and trained manpower, either in the capital or outside, should one fall sick. Just a year back, even doctors were pressed into service without adequate personnel protective equipment (PPE). That, however, is history, and, above all, vaccines have arrived. The previous UML government under KP Sharma Oli must be credited for enhancing the country's capability to fight the disease. The government must heed some of the good suggestions included in the 22-point memorandum submitted to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba the other day. Among others, the suggestions to provide booster shots to the population and setting up holding centres at the border entry points in coordination with the lower tiers of the government are sound. Also, the UML's demand for the provision of COVID-19 dedicated hospitals and coordinated mobilisation of government and private hospitals and medical colleges is rational.

These measures coupled with the strict enforcement of the health protocols and regulations, especially with the start of the wedding season and festivals, will go a long way in controlling the pandemic.

Labour relations

Nepal and the United Kingdom have agreed to establish labour relations between the two countries, especially in the field of providing nursing services in the UK. According to the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, an understanding was reached to send workers from Nepal and to provide employment opportunities to Nepali workers by the UK. The UK has been struggling with a short supply of nurses after a surge in coronavirus cases for the last two years.

The ministry officials said an understanding was reached to finalise the issues of relocating Nepalis to the health sector of London at the earliest. The ministry has said human resources in the Nepali nursing sector would get employment opportunity under the National Health Services, London. Nepal's nursing education has gained international recognition from the UK to Israel. However, what the Nepal government should keep in mind is that oversupply of nurses to overseas countries may create an acute shortage of trained human resources needed within the country when we also need them the most. The government should provide attractive salaries and benefits to retain our skilled human resources.

A version of this article appears in the print on January 17, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.