Election crowds could give rise to fresh surge in Covid-19 cases, experts warnHealth Ministry says it has asked agencies to step up vigilance and maintain supply of essential medical items including the reagents.
As political rallies gain momentum with the May 13 local level elections approaching closer, public health experts warn that a new surge in Covid-19 infections might be brewing.
Such political events could fuel the contagion as safety measures are not being followed properly.
Huge rallies and gatherings preceded the second and third waves of the pandemic in the past, said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital. “And now we are heading towards the local level elections at a time when new cases are surging in neighbouring India.”
Before the second wave hit the country in April last year, political parties were in a competition to stage rallies. Opposition parties were in protest against the dissolution of Parliament by KP Sharma Oli, then the prime minister from the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) who now heads the CPN-UML. The Oli faction of the NCP also organised mass meetings to show that people supported the government’s move.
The third wave of the pandemic started after the national conventions of political parties.
In overcrowded assemblies, public health measures are hard to follow. “We do not take risks seriously and forget many things quickly,” said Pun. “Much is yet to be known about the virus that has been spreading in neighbouring India but people are getting infected and dying.”
India reported at least 50 deaths and 3,688 new infections in the last 24 hours.
Thousands of people are expected to return to the country from India in the local level election scheduled to be held on May 13.
“Even if all people do not get severely ill, the elderly and those with compromised immunity have higher risks of getting critical,” said Dr Janak Koirala, an infectious disease expert. “While organising election-related activities, political parties and the concerned authorities should adopt maximum precaution.”
Experts attribute the increase in new cases in India to the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron and its sub-lineage BA.2.12.1.
The BA.2, a sub-variant of Omicron, was responsible for the third wave of the pandemic in Nepal and even though the impact of the third wave was less severe compared to the second wave driven by the Delta variant, the rate of infections was worryingly high.
“But that does not mean infections do not harm anybody,” said Koirala. “Elderly people, and those taking medicines for diabetes, blood pressure, and cancer, among other diseases, are at high risk.”
Over 8,000 people died due to Covid-19 infections in the second wave of the pandemic derived by the Delta variant and hundreds died in the third wave fuelled by the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health and Population said it has stepped up effort, especially in areas bordering India, to stem the spread of Covid-19 given the uptick in cases in some states of the southern neighbour.
Officials say they have supplied sufficient numbers of antigen test kits to the health desks set up at border points and have directed health workers to collect swab samples of those who test positive on antigen test and send the samples for polymerase chain reaction tests to laboratories equipped to conduct whole-genome sequencing.
“We have also alerted the agencies concerned to step up vigilance, and to check the stock of essential medical supplies and testing kits,” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry. “We are also urging people to follow safety measures, as time has not come to discard them yet.”
Doctors say that officials should ensure that safety measures—social distancing, and use of masks and sanitisers—must be followed during the elections.
Instead of organising events that pull crowds, political parties and candidates should be encouraged to use social media for campaigns to lessen the risk of Covid spread, say doctors.
“Both government agencies and the political parties can request people not to give up safety measures during their door-to-door campaigns or assemblies,” said Pun of the Sukraraj Hospital. “Elderly people should take extra precaution, vehicles being used to ferry voters and authorities concerned should make sure that there are no long queues at election booths.”