Nepal may not have much of a choice other than to place extraordinary civil restrictions to break the chains of infection
With as many as 28 lives lost to the coronavirus in a single day on Sunday, a figure that has doubled in just a few days, it is time the government took extreme measures to contain the second wave of the virus. This has pushed the number of deaths from the respiratory contagion in the country to 3,164 as of Sunday. Last week the government introduced new measures, hoping to prevent the spread of the virus in the community. Apart from closing down educational institutions and entertainments centres, it had put a ban on gatherings of all sorts – social, religious and others –of more than 25 people, although allowing restaurants to open till 8 in the evening. But with the start of the wedding season and the many jatras that take place during this time of the year, these regulations have not been adhered to by the public at large. Markets are just as crowded as before, and public vehicles continue to be packed with passengers, although they are supposed to be carrying only half their capacity. In such a situation, it does not leave the government much choice, other than to impose harsh measures, however unpopular they may be, should things get out of hand as in India.
We ought to be learning lessons from India, where daily new infections of more than 300,000 and deaths in the thousands have created a pathetic situation.
Hospitals have run out of beds, with even critical patients being turned away. There is an acute shortage of oxygen in the hospitals, forcing it to airlift oxygen tanks from abroad. And with the rising death toll, the dead are being cremated outside the ghats. So with the outbreak of the second wave of COVID-19 raging in India, it is only reasonable that Nepal should also see a spike in coronavirus cases. With hundreds of thousands of Nepali youths working in India, their return in droves through the unregulated open border is making things unmanageable in the country. The hospitals in Sudurpaschim, from where a large number of Nepalis migrate seasonally for work in India, is already seeing a bed crunch. With infections on the rise, the hospitals are already facing a shortage of doctors and nurses. And this is not limited to the health facilities in the Tarai– the hospitals in the hills are equally affected.
The government seems reluctant to go for a lockdown, given the bitter experience of last year, when the people, especially the daily wage earners, faced hand-to-mouth problems. But to avoid a situation similar to that facing India today, Nepal may not have much of a choice other than to place extraordinary civil restrictions for at least two weeks to break the chains of infection. However painful it might be, there is a need to effectively stop the movement of people across the border until the situation improves.
The government would do well to listen to the doctors on how to handle the pandemic instead of being guided by myopic political interests. Learning lessons from last year, the government should make preparations to provide free food and treatment to the needy during the difficult period. This will cost money, but it can always pool resources from the unproductive sectors that this country is used to spending on.
Heed DoT rules
This year's spring climbing season is facing two major challenges: a record number of permits issued for Everest expeditions and possibility of the super spread of the coronavirus in the high altitude areas above Everest Base Camp. According to the Department of Tourism (DoT), a record number of 394 people from 42 teams have been issued Everest permits, which is more than the number of climbing permits issued in 2019, when 381 people were permitted to climb the world's highest peak in the spring season.
This year's climbing season has also been shrouded in uncertainty with the revelation that two climbers have tested positive for COVID-19. Initially, they were suspected of suffering from high altitude sickness.
After they were airlifted to Kathmandu, they tested positive for COVID-19. This has raised suspicion that others might have also contracted the coronavirus.
It is, therefore, advised that those who show mild symptoms of illness related to high altitude sickness avoid the expedition for the safety of their own and others. At the same time, the climbers should heed the DoT's rules that require the climbers to wait for their turn to push for their summit.
A version of this article appears in the print on April 27, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.