Officials forgot duty, public threw away masks; now second wave is hereNew variants of the coronavirus are more transmissible and deadlier, but people are not taking precautions and there is not enough testing and monitoring of those in home isolation.
After attending to Covid-19 patients for months at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Shankar Pandey, a senior auxiliary health worker, got infected with the coronavirus in September last year.
With his blood oxygen level going down his health deteriorated.
“I had almost all the symptoms of Covid-19–fever, bodyache and respiratory problems and others,” Pandey told the Post.
But he continued to stay at home as most of the health facilities in Kathmandu Valley, including the government hospital he worked at, were overwhelmed with those seriously ill with Covid-19 complications.
Pandey contacted doctors and they counselled him not to worry, assuring him that they would send an ambulance and arrange for an oxygen bed, if his oxygen level further declined.
Then officials at the Health Ministry stopped responding to the calls of distressed relatives of patients given the lack of hospital beds. Officials had asked the infected to go to hospital, only when they became unconscious.
“At one point I thought I would not survive,” added Pandey.
Luckily for him, he did not have to be admitted to hospital as he gradually recovered.
Pressure on hospitals has increased once again as new Covid-19 cases have started to surge in the past three weeks. Hospitals are getting packed with seriously ailing patients.
Despite the grave situation, authorities are yet to take decisions to contain the growing number of infections.
A meeting of Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre held at Singha Durbar on Saturday did not make any decisions on the measures that need to be taken to check the spread of the virus.
“We discussed various measures including school closures but no decision was made today,” Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel told the Post. “We will recommend the suggestions of experts to the Cabinet, which will take a final decision.”
Among the measures discussed on Saturday were school closures in big cities until May 14 and some kind of restrictions on the night business, restaurants, and public transport, according to Pokhrel, who heads the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre.
Besides school closure and early restaurant closure in 14 districts, the Health Ministry has also recommended that the general public avoid places like health clubs, malls, movie theatres, places of worship and festival processions to reduce their risk of catching the virus.
Public health experts are worried that this time the condition could be disastrous, as neither the government nor public are taking the growing risk seriously.
“People have even stopped wearing face masks, in spite of warnings of experts not to let the guard down as risk of infection is rising,” Dr Tulsi Ram Bhandari, a public health expert, told the Post. “Authorities too have overlooked the risks and have not thought it necessary to enforce safety measures strictly.”
Authorities are aware that the fast-spreading UK variant of the coronavirus, known as B.1.1.7, is responsible for the recent spike in new cases, but have not stepped up the surveillance, increased tests, resumed contact tracing and launched an effective awareness drive against the growing risks.
According to scientists, the UK variant is 40 to 70 percent more transmissible than the virus that caused the first wave of coronavirus infections. They have also said that the virus is 64 percent deadlier than its previous strains.
Bhandari, who is also an assistant professor at Pokhara University, said that the countries which have taken the risks lightly have witnessed the worst outbreak.
In India new cases have been exploding especially in cities like Delhi and Mumbai with new records being set every day as political rallies continue to be held and the Kumbh Mela going on where millions of devotees are congregating.
On Saturday it reported 234,692 new cases.
Thousands of Nepali migrant workers have been returning from India of late without much monitoring over the 1,800-kilometre-long open border.
In Nepal 843 new cases were reported throughout the country and five deaths on Saturday. Of the total cases recorded in 24 hours, 312 are from Kathmandu district alone. Active cases stand at 5,545. So far 283,658 people have tested positive and the death toll since the pandemic began has reached 3,075.
Given the growing pressure on hospitals, most of the infected people are in home isolation but no agency is monitoring their health condition and movements. Tests are being performed only on the symptomatic people and even infected people returning from India are being allowed to go home on public vehicles.
Authorities concerned have handed over the responsibility to enforce restrictions in the disease-hit areas to the local level.
But there is a lack of coordination among the various agencies responsible for responding to the public health crisis with other ministries resisting to follow the Health Ministry’s recommendations.
“The fight agains the coronavirus is not only the responsibility of the Health Ministry but without coordination among the government agencies and public support, we cannot contain the spread of infections,” Dr Janak Koirala, an infectious disease expert, told the Post.
“As a new variant of the virus is responsible for the rapid surge in new cases, and children are also getting infected in increasing numbers, we should shut down schools and lessen the crowds.”
Young people have been getting seriously ill due to infections in significant numbers, doctors say.
In the last 24 hours, 79 people under 20, including children, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Experts say mutations in the virus and change in season can exacerbate the situation in the coming days.
Officials had believed that infection rates would surge in the winter and decline in the summer but exactly the opposite is happening. It was also believed that elderly people are vulnerable but the new variant of the virus is equally affecting the youth and children.
While only 4 percent of the infected last year were children, during the present surge the figure stands at more than 14 percent.
“Without breaking the transmission chain, we cannot stop the contagion,” said Koirala. “The number of tests should be increased, contact tracing must be made effective, and infected patients should be isolated if we have to slow down the spread of infections. Along with this, we should expedite the vaccination to protect the vulnerable groups.”
Nepal has suspended the immunisation campaign against the coronavirus for an indefinite period due to its failure to secure sufficient doses of vaccine.
So far, only around 1.9 million people have taken their first vaccine dose.
Officials say they are not in a position to say anything about the resumption of the vaccination campaign, due to the uncertainty over supplies.
Dr Sameer Mani Dixit, director of research at the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, said while the government is responsible, the general public too is to blame for the spread of infections of late.
“This time the people are even more responsible than the government. Experts asked not to let the guard down, but we even stopped wearing face masks, we are participating in all functions, assemblies, gatherings, jatras and others,” said Dixit. “Authorities concerned too failed to fulfil their responsibilities.”
Most of the doctors the Post talked with said the country will reach the same situation or even worse than last year, if both the authorities and general public do not adhere to experts’ suggestions.
“Sooner or later cases will rise and if we do not follow the safety protocol, we will have similar situations as in the past,” added Dixit. “But we can lessen the loss by following safety measures and start preparations to prevent the worst.”