Nepal’s Covid-19 death toll crosses 1,000 markPublic health experts warn of a catastrophic situation ahead if the authorities still fail to take preventive measures immediately.
With 20 more deaths in the last 24 hours, Nepal’s coronavirus toll crossed the 1,000 mark on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health and Population said.
But if the data of Nepal Army, which has been managing the bodies of the people infected with coronavirus for their last rites, is anything to go by, the number of Covid-19 deaths has exceeded 1,400.
“Since there is a variation in numbers, a three-member panel has been formed to verify the data and it is working on a war footing,” said Nepal Army spokesperson Brigadier General Santosh Ballav Paudel.
Public health experts are more worried about the fact that the number of deaths has been increasing rapidly.
The number of deaths got more than double in the month of September, and in October it almost doubled again, according to Health Ministry data.
“Cases have doubled in September and October and will triple in November, and the situation will be catastrophic in the coming days if the authorities do not take containment measures immediately,” Dr Janak Koirala, an infectious disease expert, told the Post. “I too wonder why the authorities concerned are not doing the things, which are doable.”
Nepal reported its first coronavirus case in the third week of January. But the first Covid-19 death came months later on May 16. The country went into lockdown on March 24. But when the government decided to lift the lockdown on July 21, 40 people had died of the virus. In the remaining 10 days of July, 16 more people succumbed to the disease.
At the end of August, the number of deaths stood at 228 which went up to 498 at the end of September and 937 at the end of October.
Sixty-seven deaths have been recorded in the last three days—23 on Sunday, 24 on Monday and 20 on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, the total number of Covid-19 deaths stood at 1,004.
The total number of cases stands at 179, 614 with 3,114 people testing positive nationwide in the last 24 hours. There were 372 serious patients in intensive care units and 68 on ventilator support on Tuesday.
According to Koirala, who was one of the public health experts invited to the Health Ministry last month, almost everyone had warned of difficult days ahead and recommended restrictions in Covid-19 hotspots including Kathmandu Valley.
Koirala said they had also recommended increasing the number of tests, making contact tracing more effective, isolating infected people and increasing the capacity of hospitals as well as ensuring proper oxygen supply.
Instead, a Cabinet meeting held on October 5 decided to charge people for tests and treatment as a result of which the number of tests have been going down. From a high of 18,473 tests on October 8, the average number of tests over the last seven days has gone down to 11,417.
With the halt to free testing and treatment, contact tracing has also decreased significantly. Even as the number of infections rose—and with them the number of serious cases too rose, officials tasked with the job of case management also stopped responding to distress calls of the relatives of serious patients.
Dr Jageshwar Gautam, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, however, said that contact tracing has not stopped, even if the ministry has stopped providing free tests.
“How is it possible to conduct over 10,000 tests every day if contact tracing has stopped?” said Gautam. “It is not important who said what. The Health Ministry is doing what it is supposed to do.”
On the other hand, several local governments in Kathmandu Valley told the Post that they have stopped tracing contacts after swab samples of people who came in close contact with infected people were returned by the National Public Health Laboratory.
Experts had also taken part in a discussion held at the Covid-19 Crisis Management Center’s meeting and given a presentation about the looming risks and measures needed to control the spread of the pandemic.
“Even Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli must be aware of the suggestions we provided,” said Koirala. “Infections will not come under control and deaths from the infection will not decline even if we stop testing and contact tracing.”
Doctors said that authorities are not doing sufficient tests, which is considered responsible for the spread of infection. They said that over 20,000 tests should be performed every day in Kathmandu Valley and 10,000 in other parts of the country, if the contagion is to be brought under control.
“We have been laying stress on one specific thing since the very beginning—test, trace and isolate and increase the capacity of hospitals. This is still relevant today to control the virus spread,” Dr Kiran Pandey, a consultant physician, told the Post.
“The ongoing pandemic has exposed the lack of seriousness in our work and our implementation capacity.”
It is not difficult to convert some unused buildings into isolation facilities, set up oxygen supply, increase tests, make contact tracing effective, enforce safety measures strictly, according to Pandey.
Dr Bhagwan Koirala, chairman of Nepal Medical Council, the national regulatory body of medical doctors, said that fundamental principles for prevention and control and mitigation of the infection have not changed.
“It will be suicidal if we let the disease spread without doing anything,” he told the Post.