It will be difficult for us to bring the coronavirus under control should the second wave spread in the communities

The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) issued a statement on Sunday warning the people not to attend large gatherings or hold political rallies or mass meetings amidst the surge seen in the second wave of the coronavirus in several states of neighbouring India. As many as 12 states in India have been hit hard by the second wave of COVID-19 as Indian health officials reported 43,846 new cases in the past 24 hours alone. The MoHP has also told government hospitals and health facilities across the country to remain on high alert to deal with any eventuality. As Nepal and India share an open border, the government fears that a surge in the number of cases in India might also lead to a similar spike in numbers in Nepal. The government has also directed the security personnel deployed at the entry points to be more vigilant so that infected people do not enter the country through the open border. The ministry has also urged all to practise face-masking, hand washing and social distancing to keep the coronavirus at bay. The government felt it urgent to issue the warning as Nepal experienced difficulty in handling thousands of Nepalis who returned home following the outbreak of the virus in India in March last year and afterward.

Sudurpaschim Province is considered to be at high risk of a second wave of the virus as many people are returning home from India to celebrate Bishuparba (New Year) via the open border. The second wave of COVID-19 in the Indian states will have direct impact on Nepal because of the open border.

Therefore, Sudurpaschim Province has made antigen tests mandatory for the people entering the country via land routes.

They are also required to stay in self-quarantine for at least 10 days. Health desks must be set up at the major entry points so that no one enters the country without going through the antigen tests.

Other check points, from where a large number of Nepalis enter, should also be closed until India brings the second wave of the coronavirus under control.

Europe and the USA have already witnessed the second and third waves of the virus despite their massive vaccination drive. So, Nepal cannot take any chance and allow the coronavirus to spread in the communities. So far, Nepal has been able to keep the virus at bay thanks to public cooperation and the government's immediate action to vaccinate the people. It will be difficult to control the virus if the second wave spreads. At the same time, the government should not delay in procuring Covishield, for which payment has already been made to Serum Institute of India, which has been supplying the vaccines to Nepal. So far, around 1.6 million people have already been inoculated with the first dose of the vaccine.

Effectiveness of the first dose of the vaccine will be zilch if the people who received the first dose are not inoculated again. Epidemiologists have even warned of various health complications if the second dose of the prescribed vaccine is not administered within the time limit. So, the government's priority should be on procuring the vaccines that are adequate for the second dose. We also need to effectively monitor the open border, which can be a source of the second wave of the coronavirus.

Growing organic

Organic farming holds much promise in Nepal, but it has so far been limited to scattered small landholdings growing tea, coffee and vegetables. It is thus encouraging that the government is setting up a separate mechanism to promote organic farming in the country from the coming fiscal year. Among others, the plan includes organic fertiliser production to improve the quality of manure. Accordingly, the quality and service of organic fertiliser factories will be upgraded while it is also mulling over setting up an organic fertiliser factory in the tea and coffee growing areas.

A lot of tea and coffee grown in Nepal for export already carry the 'organic' label and are already popular overseas. However, what is holding back the expansion of their acreage is the lack of promotion of these products in the international market. Secondly, organic farming will only expand if there are good returns for the farmers for what they grow. As is the case in Nepal, it is the middle men who profit heavily at the expense of the farmers, thus discouraging them from taking up not only organic farming but farming altogether. These issues must be looked into before organic farming becomes widely accepted.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 23, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.