The second wave is knocking on the borderThe government seems to be unconcerned about a possible renewed virus outbreak.
As the government dawdles amid political chaos, the thousands of new Covid-19 cases in India are likely to trigger another and more vicious second wave in Nepal. Despite deploying all available resources and taking precautions in 2020, the virus made its way into Nepal and rapidly spread all over the country. But this time around, the government and agencies concerned are exhibiting an unconcerned attitude towards this looming health crisis. All the transit points on the Nepal-India border are open, and people are moving around freely and without any precautions or tests.
On top of that, Covid-19 fatigue has set in and the public has become tired of following safety protocols. For this reason, there has been no let-up in the caseload. The government still seems to be unconcerned about a possible renewed virus outbreak even though the disastrous economic consequences of the recent lockdown are still fresh in everybody's minds.
The government has lifted restrictions imposed on almost all economic activities in Nepal. Hotels, restaurants and clubs, schools and universities, party palaces, gym centres and movie theatres have reopened. The concerned bodies are seemingly confused over how to handle the situation. The Health Ministry has issued statements requesting people to wear masks and maintain social distancing. However, authorities are not following up on their directives to ensure that they are being implemented.
Nepal's vaccination drive has started and the government is planning for the second round of jabs, but the coronavirus threat is still out there. Even the rich countries with all kinds of resources, vaccine inventories and excellent health care facilities—the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Brazil—are still struggling to contain the virus. It's been a year and European countries are still under lockdown, and thousands of new cases are being reported in the US despite all the inoculations. Nepal with its dilapidated health infrastructure and facilities is very vulnerable. Therefore, the country needs to act as early as possible to prevent possible infections.
First and foremost, the government needs to alert and reactivate all local, provincial, and federal units to contain this possible virus crisis. This time, the schools and public transportation need much attention. They should be made to follow preliminary precautions strictly. Tests should be conducted at the border before there is a possible stampede of people due to increasing cases in India. We need to reinstate quarantines and make them ready just in case infections start increasing significantly. The schools, that were used before as quarantine facilities cannot be used unless we go for a nationwide lockdown, and Nepal cannot bear a lockdown again. The economy has already been smothered by previous lockdowns. Therefore, without hampering schooling, the government has to find proper places for quarantine centres so there will be no need to shut down schools and other educational institutions again.
If the infection numbers start increasing significantly, the country will have no choice but to go for a lockdown. We have examples from some states in India where lockdown measures are still imposed. Bangladesh recently announced a nationwide lockdown for a week. On the other hand, if we give it much priority and get things done early, we could contain it as Bhutan did it previously.
There are also arguments that Covid-19 is not as deadly as made out to be, considering the lower death rates in Nepal and India. For this reason, some say that public fears should be dismissed and things should be taken normally. But there should be no scope for such silly arguments. The government's priority should be public health. Vaccination is not sufficient to stamp out the virus. Had vaccination been sufficient to contain this virus, vaccine producers like India and the US would not be seeing hundreds of thousands of new cases daily.
It is equally important to understand that the virus has many variants in different countries. It is a matter of concern for us that India has seen some new variants and variants from the UK, Brazil and South Africa. The available vaccines have not been scientifically tested against these mutants. Therefore, there is no option but to take precautions. To this end, the government has to consult experts and brace for a possible new outbreak. Safety regulations for schools, public transportation and public places need to be enforced. The required manpower, quarantine centres, hospitals and testing tools and kits should be arranged. Just in case things go out of control, possible lockdown measures should be considered; but a lockdown should never be made the first and easiest option as was done previously.