The government should accord the highest priority to rolling out vaccines to the eligible population

Although the government has been inoculating anti-COVID-19 vaccines for different age groups across the country, the infection and death rates have remained constant since the outbreak of the second wave of the coronavirus in the second week of April.

On average, 25 people are dying of the virus every day, and the gap between the number of infections and recovery appears to be widening with each passing day. The gap had come down to as low as 26,000 some weeks ago. Now, the gap has gone up to more than 31,000, with the fatality rate remaining steady at 1.5 per cent, the major concern for the health authorities.

The Ministry of Health and Population and World Health Organisation (WHO) have warned of a third wave of the virus,or delta variant, which is anticipated to be more fatal than the second wave, and it is likely to strike the country in mid-September, when the entire country will be observing various festivals such as Teej and Janai Purnima. Should the third wave break out, it will kill more people than the second one did in three months compared to the first one that lasted for over one year.

Even if the third wave breaks out, it is not possible to re-impose another nationwide lockdown or select prohibitory orders, considering the worsening economic condition that has rendered millions of people jobless. Therefore, the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre (CCMC), an apex government body formed to take decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, has come up with a proposal to categorise the COVID affected areas into four different colour groups to tackle the crisis.

As per the proposal, the districts or largely infected areas will be categorised as red, amber, yellow and green zones, depending on the number of COVID cases. Red means most affected area, and green means a safe area. Categorisation of the areas will also be determined based on the seriousness of the virus impact, availability of hospitals, doctors, ventilators and other medical supplements, death rate and other factors.

The CCMC is mulling over imposing a 'smart lockdown' without affecting the economic activities in the urban and rural areas. This smart lockdown will not create unnecessary panic among the people who are comparatively safe, especially those who have already taken the first or second doses of vaccines. An area where many people have taken the jabs will be considered safe even if the infection rate continues to remain unchanged. The next CCMC meeting, chaired by the Prime Minister, will take a final call on the detailed modality of the smart lockdown. So far, at least 5 per cent of the total population, especially the elderly, has already taken the first and the second doses of the vaccines. However, COVID-19 cases are gradually surging in the eastern part of the country.

Considering all these facts, the CCMC's proposal to introduce a smart lockdown can be justified. Still, the government should accord the highest priority to rolling out vaccines to the eligible population. The government should also find a way out of reopening the educational institutes as the prolonged lockdown has severely hampered the academic calendar.

Act responsibly

With a new coalition government under Premier Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress at the helm of affairs, it surprises no one that fresh appointments are being made to government bodies, commissions and institutions with people loyal to the parties in power. This has been ritually practised since multi-party democracy was ushered in the country in 1990. However, with about a dozen governments having assumed power in the past three decades, such frequent appointments of heads do little for the growth of institutions. It is against this backdrop that a delegation of five student unions met the PM the other day demanding an end to the culture of appointing university office bearers on the basis on power sharing.

They were quite right in asserting that appointments be made through open competition based on competency, efficiency and expertise. These criteria apart, all appointments should be for a fixed period so that the appointees have enough time to implement their plan of action. The politically-affiliated student unions should, however, understand that they are equally responsible for the frequent disturbances in the colleges and deteriorating quality of education in the country.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 2 2021, of The Himalayan Times.