Senior leaders in isolation after Dahal tests positive for Covid-19Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other ruling alliance leaders were present in two meetings on Thursday and Friday attended by the Maoist chair.
Nepali politicians either have downplayed the coronavirus, like KP Sharma Oli who was never tired of offering unfounded treatment for Covid-19 during his prime ministership, or have paid little heed to the disease.
On Saturday, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal tested positive for Covid-19.
“A PCR test conducted on the party chair yesterday [Friday] evening showed Corona positive,” Dahal’s secretariat said in a Twitter post. “Since he has been in isolation as per the doctor’s advice, all his scheduled programmes have been cancelled.”
Dahal’s party recently concluded its eighth general convention, which lasted eight days. More than 1,700 delegates held discussions, almost every day, in the Nepal Academy hall.
After his reelection as the party chair on January 3, Dahal has been meeting with a host of leaders who called on him at his residence to congratulate him.
Three more senior party leaders—Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Haribol Gajurel and Matrika Yadav—also tested positive for the virus. Ramesh Malla, chief personnel secretary to Dahal, said he too has contracted the coronavirus.
Chairman of Young Communist League Suman Devkota, former chair of the league Ram Prasad Sapkota and chair of the All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union Revolutionary Pancha Singh, Subodh Sherpali and Prakash Chandra Pande also tested positive for the coronavirus. They had met Dahal on Thursday to congratulate him.
“Chairman and I tested positive for Covid-19,” he told the Post. “He will remain in isolation and stop personal meetings until he recovers,” added Malla, who is also in isolation.
Scores of senior leaders from Dahal’s own party and others were in contact with him in the last couple of days. After five people including three members of the party’s central secretariat tested positive on Thursday, Dahal’s secretariat had stopped all his one-on-one meetings with party leaders and cadres.
Dahal’s recent outing was to Baluwatar, the prime minister’s residence.
On Thursday and Friday, the former prime minister attended a meeting of the High-Level Political Coordination Committee.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and some other senior leaders were also in attendance.
Purna Bahadur Khadka, Nepali Congress vice president and a member of the coordination committee, told the Post that he is self-isolating after learning that Dahal had contracted the virus.
Congress senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who heads the committee, and Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki; Maoist leaders Shrestha and Dev Gurung; CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal and its general secretary Beduram Bhusal; Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav and its national council chair Baburam Bhattarai; and Rastriya Janamorcha’s Durga Poudel and Himlal Puri were also present in the meeting.
At least two leaders, including Poudel, said that they went into isolation on Friday immediately after learning that Dahal had tested positive.
A member from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat said the prime minister will remain in isolation for a few days. The member said Deuba plans to be tested on Sunday.
“Since we have learned that Dahal has tested positive, the prime minister will be in isolation. He will also go for a test,” the member told the Post. “From Sunday the government will start issuing restrictions on public movements.”
Prime Minister Deuba on Saturday held a one-on-one meeting with CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli. The sitting lasted about an hour.
The prime minister earlier on Saturday morning had also met with party cadres, according to the member of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
On Friday evening, Deuba chaired a meeting of the Covid Crisis Management Coordination Centre.
This is the first time so many senior leaders have come in contact with at least two confirmed cases—Dahal and Shrestha, who were present in the coordination committee meetings on both days.
Nepal has seen a steady surge in Covid-19 cases of late, with 24 Omicron infections reported on Friday.
The Ministry of Health said on Saturday that the country reported 696 new cases from 9,762 polymerase chain reaction tests across the country. An additional 248 people tested positive from 3,502 antigen tests.
Public health experts have urged all to follow safety protocols and maintain utmost caution amid the twin threats posed by the Delta and Omicron variants. Nepal’s active cases stand at 6,140.
Beduram Bhusal, one of the leaders present in the Thursday and Friday meetings of the High-Level Political Coordination Committee, said he just knew about Dahal’s infection on Saturday and he would exercise caution.
“We have been holding meetings of our party but now we will take precautions,” said Bhusal, general secretary of the Unified Socialist. “Our party chair was also present in the meeting though seated far from Dahal. Both of us need to avoid meetings now.”
Unified Socialist Chairman Madhav Nepal has been attending the party’s meetings. On Saturday he joined a gathering.
Leaders of the newly formed party, a splinter group of the UML, are busy building the party’s organisational structure. They have been holding continuous meetings and gatherings in recent days. “Now with an exponential increase in coronavirus cases, we will have to stop our programmes,” Bhusal told the Post.
Chief District Officer of Kathmandu Govinda Prasad Rijal said detection of 24 new Omicron cases from a recent study has created confusion among the public. The authorities are engaged in informal discussions and the three chief district officers of Kathmandu Valley would sit once they are directed by the higher authorities.
“We are in informal discussions now with the alarming rise in Covid cases. We will do the needful soon,” Rijal told the Post.
Public health experts say political leaders have not taken the threat seriously, which led to the spread of the virus.
“It seems that the virus spread from the Maoist Centre’s national convention,” said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director of the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division. “They should have performed PCR tests on all their representatives.”
He said Nepali leaders do not take the issue seriously. “Now they should stop gathering people. Even when something is urgent, they should hold small meetings by strictly following all safety measures,” Dr Marasini said. “Small mistakes of some will ultimately become a huge problem for society.”