Don’t drop the guard against Covid-19, experts caution after WHO downgradeThe pandemic’s ‘global health emergency’ status may be over, but vulnerable groups in Nepal continue to be at risk.
On Thursday, a 30-year-old man died at Seti Provincial Hospital in Dhangadhi from Covid-related complications. He had been admitted to the hospital on April 30 following vascular problems.
Hospital officials said a polymerase chain reaction test carried out on the man’s swab samples showed he was infected with Covid-19. Two days later, he also tested positive for the dengue virus.
Apart from that case, 11 other people have died due to Covid since April 11. They are among the 12,031 people who have succumbed to the virus in Nepal so far.
The World Health Organisation on Friday declared that Covid-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.
But the virus isn’t going anywhere, infectious disease experts and virologists in Nepal say. They say that coronavirus has already become endemic and will keep circulating in communities.
Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an infectious disease expert, warned against lowering the guard against the risk of Covid infection. “The battle against Covid-19 might have been won but the war against the virus continues,” he said.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he had accepted the advice to declare an end to Covid-19 as a global health emergency. The recommendation had been made by the 15th meeting of the International Health Regulations and the Emergency Committee held on Thursday.
On 30 January 2020, the UN health body had declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of alarm under international law.
Tedros said that almost seven million Covid-related deaths worldwide have been reported to the WHO, but the true figure was likely several times higher, at least 20 million.
The pandemic disrupted health systems throughout the world, depriving millions of people of essential health services, including lifesaving vaccination for children.
In Nepal, the second wave of the pandemic triggered by the Delta variant of Covid-19 overwhelmed health facilities, forcing health authorities to request people to go to the hospital only after they had fainted. Many people died at home for want of healthcare services. The second wave claimed the lives of over 8,000 people.
Compared to the initial stage of the pandemic, the infection rate, severity and deaths from coronavirus have declined, notes Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
“But that doesn't mean the virus has gone from Nepal—it is still circulating in the communities,” Pun said. “People are still getting infected, many critically, and dying from it.”
The UN health agency cites several factors that have brought down Covid-19-related deaths, hospitalisations and admission to intensive care units—“high population-level immunity from infection, vaccination, or both, consistent virulence of currently circulating SARS-COV-2 Omicron sub-lineages compared to previously circulating Omicron sub-lineages and improved clinical case management”.
Experts say even if the severity and death rates from the infection have declined, time has not yet come for dropping the guard.
Pun suggests that active surveillance should be continued and safety measures such as washing hands, maintaining distance, and wearing face masks must be followed. “We must not forget that elderly people, those with compromised immunity and others suffering from chronic diseases are always at a high risk of severe coronavirus infection,” he said.