UnpreparedThe country’s approach to Covid-19 control could be a recipe for disaster.
It’s coming back to Nepal, from multiple areas. Cases of Covid-19 have significantly increased in various Asian countries including China, Japan and South Korea, where Nepali people have high mobility. In light of the latest situation, India has stepped up measures to tackle a possible surge. It has made PCR tests mandatory for passengers arriving from China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand. Indian authorities are also conducting a mock drill on Wednesday to prepare health facilities for a possible health emergency.
The government in Nepal has now urged the general public to abide by health protocols. The Health Ministry, issuing a statement on Saturday, asked people to be cautious while being a part of gatherings and celebrations. It has urged them to mask up, maintain social distance and get vaccinated to ward off the virus.
There seems to be few Covid-19 cases in Nepal these days. But health experts say the number of positive cases is less as only a negligible number of people are being tested. Only those who have to produce PCR test certificates to go abroad or for some other mandatory purpose have been conducting tests. Second, the new Covid-19 variant is resulting in milder symptoms in the populations vaccinated earlier. But the situation may not remain the same as, according to experts, Nepalis' immunity is waning as it’s been many months, potentially years, since the majority of them got their last jabs.
Nepal started administering booster shots nearly a year ago, on January 17. The vaccination drive gained quick momentum in the initial stages, but it then lost steam over the months. So far 7,972,791 people (27.3 percent of the population) have gotten booster shots. It has been around a year since most people took them.
Besides, most folks seem to have completely ditched their masks, nor are they bothered about social distancing, or frequent hand-sanitisation. So, given the high mobility of Nepalis to and from the countries where Covid-19 has been fast-spreading, Nepal may soon see a spike in cases. Besides, a study conducted by National Public Health Laboratory found that at least 17 sub-variants of the Omicron have been circulating in Nepal at present, which only adds to the challenges of corona-control.
The time to start preparations for a possible new wave is now. As even well-equipped countries like China struggle to contain their new wave, the task will be doubly difficult for a country like Nepal that is highly dependent on the outside world for things like health equipment, medicines, oxygen and other logistics. This is why, despite a year of experience in handling Covid-19 cases, Nepal saw a high mortality rate in the second wave.
At the time, authorities were helpless even as young and strong people succumbed to the virus. Children above five have not gotten booster shots, nor have the elderly and those with compromised immunity. This lax approach could be a recipe for disaster. One lesson from the country’s history with Covid-19 is clear: The failure to act now could have deadly consequences down the line.