The ministry's decision to inoculate the elderly against COVID-19 in the second phase is a welcome move

The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) has taken a decision to inoculate people above 60 years of age against COVID-19 from March 7. According to MoHP Spokesperson Jageshwor Gautam, the government has planned to vaccinate a total of 2,652,258 people above 60 years of age in the second phase. This is 8.73 per cent of the country's total population.

In the first phase that started on January 26, the government administered the anti-virus vaccines to frontline health workers, doctors, ambulance drivers, security personnel and those managing COV- ID-19-related dead bodies, among others. One million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca-developed vaccine and manufactured by Serum Institute of India were donated by India, which also launched its first phase of vaccination on January 16. As of today, the ministry has said as many as 263,486 people, mostly frontline health workers and doctors, have been inoculated against the virus that has so far claimed the lives of 2,055 people and infected as many as 173,070 people across the country since the coronavirus outbreak was reported one year ago. Recovery from the virus infection has stood at 269,394, which is above 98 per cent.

As per the ministry data, as many as 27,753 persons above 60 years of age have been infected, of which 1,269have died, which is more than double the total number of people who have died of the virus. The figure proves that the ageing population, with some sort of underlying health condition, is more vulnerable to the disease than the young population.

Therefore, the ministry's decision to include the elderly population in the vaccination programme in the second phase is a welcome move.

These people will be inoculated at the same health facilities where the frontline health workers and other needy people were vaccinated. The government has plans to vaccinate around 72 per cent of the population within three months.

The government is all set to procure around 2 million doses of Covishield from the Serum Institute of India for $4 per dose. Another lot of around 2.2 million doses of vaccines is being roped in through the Covax programme under WHO's coordination. China has also expressed commitment to provide 5 lakh doses of the vaccine it has developed free of cost to Nepal. On the other hand, the ministry has also decided to revise the death toll from the coronavirus in line with the data maintained by the Nepali Army (NA), which has been involved in managing the dead bodies related to COVID-19 from the very beginning.

The NA's data show that upto 2,900 people had died of the virus since last year. It means the ministry will revise the COVID-19-related deaths as per the figures provided by the army. The ministry could not keep the data upto date as most of the private hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley and outside did not provide real time information about the deaths caused by the virus. The ministry's latest decision to take legal action against those hospitals that did not provide upto date information about deaths from COVID-19 in time is a welcome move. It is the duty of all hospital to cooperate with the government when it comes to keeping records of those who have died of the virus.

Bitter lesson

Sugar mills in the country are shutting down one after another or operating at less than their total capacity for lack of raw materials. That this would happen was foreseen long ago after some sugar mills kept dilly-dallying in paying the farmers for years even as the latter struggled to pay their debts to the banks. Despite the government's directive to clear the dues to the farmers, some sugar mills have refused to do so even today. So it is only logical that sugarcane farmers should switch to more profitable crops. Today only about 60,000 farmers in 17 districts are into sugarcane farming whereas this figure used to be around 100,000 some years ago.

In a way, it serves the sugar mills right that there is a shortage of raw materials and they cannot even break even. But ultimately, who suffers? It's the country, as it must now import the shortfall by paying scarce foreign exchange. Sugar output has been declining with each passing year as four sugar mills have shut down already and the remaining 10 are unable to source enough sugarcane to keep them operating at full capacity. This should serve as a lesson to other industries also that business fosters only when there is ethics.

A version of this article appears in the print on February 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.