Some relief packageOfficials should serve the people, not con them.
Lockdown as a way of fighting Covid-19 has been a double-edged sword. While on the one hand, it has been effective in helping to contain the spread of the disease, on the other, it has put at risk many lives, especially the vulnerable population who earn on a daily basis to live a hand-to-mouth existence. Images of Nepalis who opted to walk for kilometres on end to reach their hometowns just so they will have a roof above their heads and some grain to help appease their burning stomach due to hunger have swamped the media. Those who have the luxury of a house and food perhaps can never imagine their plight. But the government at all levels should.
The introduction of relief packages for the poor showed like the government was willing to look after them. But reports of the foodstuff distributed as relief being substandard are coming to the fore. Ramgram Municipality, for example, had distributed groceries worth about Rs1 million to the needy in various wards amid the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. But recipients have complained about the poor quality of the food. Turns out, upon investigation by the Food Technology and Quality Control Office, Bhairahawa, the allegations were true. Twenty sacks of foodstuffs sampled were found to be of inferior quality.
Similarly, in Kalaiya, Bara district, Mayor Rajesh Raya was arrested on charges of selling substandard lentils from his store for distribution as part of the food relief for families affected by the ongoing lockdown. Providing for the poor during a pandemic is not a matter of show and tell. State intervention must be well calibrated as well as well monitored so that the troubles of the needy population are addressed sincerely.
The government announced a relief package which mandates, among other things, that food to the needy be provided at the local level, and employers continue to pay their workers during the lockdown. But if those who are involved in different tiers of government itself become party to malpractices, it speaks a lot about their mentality. It is shocking that people take any given chance to benefit themselves at the cost of others. Oftentimes, relief packages are not announced just like that. They are declared because times are difficult, and there is a need for such social policies. It is a shame that some people are rent-seeking instead of helping for a larger cause.
Even during the time of the Gorkha Earthquake in 2015, there were reports of substandard food material being distributed as part of relief packages. The same mistake seems to have been repeated. It is wrong to generalise something on the basis of a small sample size which, in this case, is the two municipalities. Yet, it is something that warrants attention. To ensure that the provisions to be distributed as relief packages are of the required quality, the government must declare certain standards for staple foods like rice and lentils. Once those standards are set, then it must strictly provide an oversight so that those entrusted to distribute them do not misuse their mandate.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 26, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,589,712 people with 347,903 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 144,950 with 4,172 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 772 cases with four deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.