Public health experts point at government failure amid projections of spike in casesOfficials estimate that the number of Covid-19 cases is likely to double within a week, ultimately reaching a peak of 20,000 infections and between 400 and 500 deaths.
The number of Covid-19 cases in Nepal has been steadily rising, at a rate of a few hundreds every day. On Wednesday, 201 new cases were detected, following a pattern where the country has reported more than 200 cases every day for the last three days.
Just five days ago, the number of Covid-19 cases was around a thousand and 25 days ago, it was less than a hundred. Currently, the total is 2,300, with nine deaths, and there are no signs of a plateau.
Covid-19 has spread across the country, with 64 out of 77 districts reporting cases.
"Positive cases as well as the number of people in quarantine are rising at an alarming rate," Dr Bikash Devkota, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post.
But the worst is yet to come, as Health Ministry officials estimate that the number of cases is likely to double within a week, ultimately reaching a peak of 20,000 infections and between 400 and 500 deaths.
“It depends on the number of people entering from India,” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. “If around 500,000 people come in from India, both the number of infections and deaths will rise.”
As more than two months of a complete lockdown and severe restrictions on all kinds of movement have not stopped the spread of the coronavirus, Health Ministry officials say that they felt the need to revise their infection and death projections.
"It has now become apparent that the government cannot contain the spread of Covid-19,” said Dr Mingmar Gyelgen Sherpa, former director general at the Department of Health Services. “Nor can it treat the patients, as it severely lacks infrastructure, including isolation beds.”
With the sudden spike in the number of cases, isolation beds allocated at various hospitals across the country are full. According to the Health Ministry, 1,624 isolation beds have been allocated to over 100 hospitals across the country.
Authorities are now planning to send Covid-19 patients to quarantine facilities, which are already in a bad shape, before sending them home.
Doctors and public health experts say that converting quarantine centres into isolation facilities and sending people home are both fraught with risks. While people are already fleeing quarantine facilities and even comitting suicide, those who are sent home could spread the disease among their families and communities.
"The capacity and working style of the government have been exposed in the last three months. Positive cases and deaths will increase if the government fails to change its working style,” said Sherpa. "People are dying in quarantine because there are neither doctors nor nurses to monitor them.”
In the months since the lockdown came into force, the government has neither increased the number of isolation beds nor improved quarantine facilities. Public health officials have accused the administration of squandering the opportunity provided by the lockdown.
"The government has made no preparations,” said Dr Senendra Upreti, a former health secretary. “The authorities should have invested more time in studying the shortcomings and correcting them.”
An official at the Health Ministry blamed lack of coordination among the concerned agencies for the exponential rise in the coronavirus cases.
"No one is following the guidelines prepared by the ministry, nor is anyone fulfilling their responsibilities," said the official on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. "Every agency including the Health Ministry is trying to pass their responsibility on to others."
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 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 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 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.