Vaccine chaosThe government must set up an online preregistration system for an effective vaccine rollout.
Like in the past several days, hundreds of people on Tuesday formed serpentine queues outside designated hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley from early morning to get their first dose of vaccine against Covid-19. Following the government decision last week to roll out the China-donated ‘Vero Cell’ vaccine to people between the ages of 18-59, large crowds formed outside the vaccination centres. The resulting chaos with an increasing number of people queuing up for vaccines and PCR tests is proof that neither the Oli administration nor the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre has a plan to break the chain of transmission or ensure an efficient rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.
As new infections and hospital admissions rise alarmingly in the Valley, the government should have anticipated the chaos outside vaccination centres and designated laboratories. Authorities have failed to put in place control measures or a scientific preregistration process for the jabs. As a result, people have been forced to spend an entire day jostling each other in the sweltering heat with no certainty that they will get inoculated or have their swab samples taken in a safe environment. Frustrating as the government's mishandling of the pandemic already is, risks of acquiring the virus at the queues outside vaccination centres or laboratories is equally high as there are no physical distancing measures.
This madness, which primarily stems from ad hoc government decisions and public carelessness, must stop. If we don’t act now, things will only worsen when more people compete to get vaccinated. The government must learn from best international practices and immediately replicate an online preregistration system to fix the bedlam surrounding the Covid-19 vaccination and PCR tests. We can’t have people standing in a queue for hours in the sun to get their shots or swab samples taken when we can employ an inexpensive crashproof online system for people to sign up for vaccines or PCR tests.
There has been some commendable work by the government to digitise various sectors, which would have otherwise required painstaking paperwork and visits to government offices. Last year, the government launched a website and an app to disseminate accurate information on Covid-19 as the pandemic gripped the country. Building on these initiatives, the government must now design a system whereby people can sign up for vaccine appointments with a click. It will relieve the public from existing suffering and keep them safe, and it will also help the government make informed decisions and plan the vaccine rollout in a fair, scheduled and efficient manner.
Nepal must learn from countries that have successfully demonstrated how to contain the pandemic or launch a vaccination drive. Replicating those models to break the chain of transmission or developing a simple preregistration system for vaccine appointments and a PCR test is not rocket science. But before anything else, the government must first fundamentally reform itself to manage the Covid-19 crisis rather than reacting to situations abruptly as and when they arise, for government mismanagement and decades of bad governance is responsible for the situation we are in now.