New wave of COVID-19 infections looming in Nepal

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According to the most recent figures, 28 people have died from COVID-19 and 1,581 were infected over the weekend in Nepal, bringing the cumulative number of deaths from the pandemic to 11,040 people and 784,566 infections.

Unreliable official figures have declined in Nepal since infections and deaths peaked in April and May this year. However, a third wave of the pandemic has hit India and threatens to cross the small Himalayan country of 28 million people where millions of people live in poverty.

The Nepalese ruling elite, like their international counterparts, put profits before human lives. The administration of former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and the current government led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba have failed to implement serious health and safety measures to deal with COVID-19 and the variant highly infectious from the Delta.

Nepalese demonstrators take part in a torchlight rally to protest the dissolution of parliament in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo / Niranjan Shrestha)

The Deuba government was installed in June, after the country’s Supreme Court restored the parliament, which had been prematurely dissolved in May for the second time by President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

On September 13, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) released a damning 50 page backgrounder on Nepal titled “Unprepared and Unlawful”.

The newspaper said Nepal’s response to COVID-19 was inadequate and had failed to implement coronavirus advice from international authorities or orders from the country’s Supreme Court. The ICJ document follows a report released last November on Kathmandu’s response to the pandemic in 2020. The two reports constitute an indictment not only of the Oli and Deuba regimes, but of the entire government. Nepalese elite.

Quoting ICJ legal adviser Karuna Parajuli, this week’s “Unprepared and Illegal” report said the government “had not properly prepared for the 2021 resurgence.” The immunization rollout plan, according to the report, was not transparent and timely as the government failed to meet its own targets; patients were overcharged in private hospitals; non-COVID patients did not receive adequate health care; health workers have been attacked; and the country’s prisons were dangerous and overcrowded.

The ICJ has called for the right to health to be guaranteed for all, including: an uninterrupted supply of oxygen, increased beds, intensive care capacity, medicines and equipment to all hospitals treating pandemic patients; no prison overcrowding and implementation of appropriate security measures; private hospitals must comply with legal requirements; and public disclosure of vaccine contracts with pharmaceutical companies.

The ICJ also condemned repeated statements by former Prime Minister Oli “downplaying” the severity of the pandemic and claiming that the coronavirus was like the flu and could be blocked by hot water and sneezing. He also insisted that because Nepal had fresh air and garlic, ginger and turmeric were an integral part of the daily diet, the people of the country had better immunity against COVID- 19.

The vaccination rate in Nepal remains dangerously low. About 5.12 million or 17% of the population have been fully vaccinated and only 5.74 million or 19% have received only a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to some medical experts, the religious holiday season from September to November in India could produce another coronavirus outbreak in that country and spread rapidly to Nepal. The countries share a 1,770 km open border that is regularly crossed by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.

The second wave of the pandemic in India in 2020 reflected in Nepal and saw hospitals turning away patients because there were not enough intensive care beds, ventilators and oxygen. The fast-spreading Delta variant first found in India is now seen in most Nepalese cases. The shortage of testing equipment has worsened the situation as only symptomatic cases are detected, even at official border posts.

Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, head of clinical research unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Diseases Hospital, told Kathmandu Post that the Delta variant circulated through Nepal “with few or no restrictions”. He said that “monitoring of violations of health protocols has not been effective.”

The pandemic has had a drastic impact on the Nepalese economy which relies heavily on the tourism industry and on remittances from migrant workers. Travel and tourism, which accounts for around 8% of the country’s gross domestic product, has all but collapsed. The sector generated up to $ 500 million per year and provided jobs for around 1.5 million workers in the hospitality, airline, transportation, accommodation, food and recreation industries. .

Tourist arrivals have fallen sharply and incomes are expected to fall by $ 330 million this year, shedding even more jobs, the Himalayan weather reported in July. Government authorities have made no attempt to resolve the severe economic difficulties facing workers in this industry.

Temple Tiger Group executive chairman Basant Raj Mishra told the Kathmandu Post September 12: “Without a doubt, hotels and restaurants are the big losers. Some have survived the pandemic thanks to the movement of domestic tourists. But in recent years the development of hotels has been so rapid that national tourism cannot support all of them. “

The number of Nepalese children living in poverty quadrupled to around six million last year. Nationwide COVID-19 lockdowns have had an impact on students, with two-thirds of the country’s eight million students unable to attend any type of online learning program. School closures also meant that they could not receive the limited free meals provided by the Nepal School Meals Program.

At the same time, child labor has reached new heights. According to Human Rights Watch, a third of Nepalese children the agency interviewed worked at least 12 hours a day for as little as 517 rupees (US $ 4.44), and many suffered serious injuries at work.

Professor Pasang Sherpa of the Nepal Institute of Health Sciences told the Borgen Magazine that the pandemic “has made poverty much worse than what I have seen in my life so far”.

According to last month’s “Nepal: Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021” report, 36% of the multidimensionally poor people in Nepal live in overcrowded households, a major factor in the spread of coronavirus infections. Likewise, 38.2 percent of Nepalese do not have access to facilities for washing hands with soap in their homes.

Indifferent to these dangerous conditions and another even deadlier wave of coronavirus infections, the Nepalese government, like others around the world, is considering reopening schools, insisting people must learn to ‘live with it. the virus “.


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