Covid-19 cases are rising but test numbers are declining and contact tracing is ineffectiveThe authorities that were too slow to recognise the looming threat seem to have given up the fight against the virus, public health experts say.
On Tuesday, doctors at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital decided to take matters into their own hands as people in an overwhelming number stood in queue for hours to get tested for Covid-19.
Doctors said they were by and large helpless as hundreds of people were spending nights on the hospital premises, under staircases and the passage, waiting for their turn to give samples. They were waiting without food.
“We decided to collect money on our own so that we could provide some food to them,” said Dr Sagar Rajbhandari, director at the hospital. “We felt really bad that there were small children waiting in line for days.”
With whatever money that was collected, according to Rajbhandari, noodles and beaten rice were provided.
One way to address the situation was increasing the number of tests so that people would give swabs and go home as early as possible.
Even though the hospital laboratory can test only 300 swabs a day, it started collecting 600.
But regardless of the situation in the government hospital, the number of overall tests—polymerase chain reaction tests—across the country over the past few days has gone down, raising concerns whether the government is making serious attempts to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Health Ministry was conducting around 10,000 tests, on average, across the country, but the number over the past few days has come down.
Public health experts say that with the risk level rising, the number of tests should have increased. But the authorities seem to have surrendered now, according to them.
“We are heading towards a catastrophe and the government seems to be absolutely apathetic towards such a looming crisis,” said a member of the Nepal Medical Council requesting anonymity because he was concerned about getting into a controversy.
“The number of tests performed since the restrictions were lifted has drastically gone down. To make matters worse, the government has not done anything to make contact tracing effective. This clearly shows the government has given up the fight against Covid-19.”
Since the restrictions were eased, Kathmandu Valley has seen an increased public mobility. Public vehicles are allowed to operate saying they should follow certain safety protocols, but monitoring has been lax. As long-haul public transport too has resumed, an increased public movement is expected soon in view of the festival season.
It has now become clear that the government, which never took any serious effort to fight the pandemic, has no plans to respond to the disease, according to public health experts.
Doctors say that increasing tests and ensuring effective contact tracing and isolation of the infected people will be crucial in lessening the infection rate. However, the authorities have neither increased the number of tests nor paid any heed to contact tracing.
Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, however, said the government has not reduced the number of tests.
“The government performs tests on the basis of need,” Gautam told the Post. “The government cannot perform tests on all those who want to get tested. This is not necessary also.”
As of Wednesday, 67,804 people from across the country have tested positive for Covid-19. The death toll has reached 436.
In the last 24 hours, 1,172 people tested positive for the coronavirus. Among them, 637 are from Kathmandu Valley.
The Health Ministry said 49,954 people have recovered so far, which is 73. 7 percent of the total cases.
While the government does not seem to have any plans to increase the number of tests, it is planning yet another lockdown.
The Health Ministry has decided to recommend the government enforce a nation-wide lockdown again if the number of active cases crossed 25,000.
According to spokesperson Gautam, a meeting of the incident command system of the Health Ministry held on Wednesday morning took the decision to that effect.
“It is the Health Ministry’s recommendation; it is up to the Cabinet to take the final decision,” said Gautam. “The number of active cases will cross 25,000 only if daily cases reach around 2,000.”
There were 17,414 active cases throughout the country as of Wednesday.
Public health experts say the government was never serious about Covid-19 and it is still failing to recognise the risk that the pandemic poses to the society and the larger impact it can have on the entire country.
“From the very beginning, we were clear that the country will face such a serious condition, as authorities were refusing to comprehend the virus risk,” said Dr Govinda Prasad Ojha, former director general at the Department of Health Services.
When the government imposed the lockdown on March 24, there was no particular plan as to how it was going to use the period to respond to the outbreak. After four months, the government suddenly lifted the lockdown on July 21.
Across the lockdown, the number of cases rose from two to more than 17,000. After the lockdown was lifted, cases started to rise at an alarming rate, forcing the government to impose restrictions, this time through the orders of chief district officers.
Kathmandu Valley’s case, according to public health experts, proves that restrictions are not a solution to the contagion and that authorities must rely on science–testing, tracing and isolating–in the fight against the virus.
“Authorities in Nepal always misled the general public with mistruths. They kept on saying that the coronavirus will never enter the country because it is the land of Lord Pashupatinath,” said Ojha.
“After nine months since the first case was reported, the country is in a difficult situation, unable to fight the virus. And the authorities seem to have left everything on god.”