‘We've failed to check the virus spread. We can only focus on increasing hospital beds.’Kathmandu Metropolitan City Mayor on the reasons for its sluggish response and what measures the metropolis has been taking to fight the pandemic.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City has now become a Covid-19 hotspot. According to the Public Health Department of the City, over 60 percent of the infected people in Kathmandu district are from within the Kathmandu Metropolitan City area. The district has generally had the most number of daily recorded cases during the ongoing second wave. On Tuesday alone, Kathmandu district accounted for 2,779 cases of the total 7,587 infections reported across the country. However, compared to other local governments in Kathmandu Valley, the City it has been lagging behind in preparations to check the spread of the virus. The Post’s Anup Ojha talked to Kathmandu Metropolitan City Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya about the reasons for its sluggish response and what measures it has been taking to fight the pandemic.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
The 61st municipal executive committee meeting on Sunday announced Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s plans to build its own hospital and isolation centres. When is this going to materialise?
We have been working on two different options. Firstly, we are coordinating with the existing hospitals within the metropolitan city which already have infrastructure and enough manpower. For example, on Monday we had a meeting with authorities of Bir Hospital. We are going to add 200 beds for Covid-19 patients there. We have committed to provide oxygen in cylinders to the hospital for these additional beds. Maybe, we will be able to do this by Sunday.
Secondly, we are planning to convert Kathmandu National Medical College, which is closed right now, into a temporary Covid-19 hospital. There have also been talks to make isolation centres for those testing positive at Nepal Police Hospital’s new building, Bir Hospital’s new building, Ayurvedic Hospital in Kirtipur, Gorkha Hospital at Gongabu, Kantipur Hospital at Subidhanagar, Mahendra Narayan Hospital at Gaushala. Soon, we will be establishing isolation centres in coordination with those hospitals.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City has already become a hotspot for Covid-19 with over 1,000 daily new infections. But the City does not have a single isolation or quarantine centre till now. You have just made a plan but not executed it yet. Don’t you think it’s too late?
Yes, we do not have a single isolation centre of our own. But we have been tying up with different hospitals. As this happens to be the Capital city, it’s difficult to make separate isolation centres. But we have not been idle during the pandemic. On Sunday, the City established an oxygen plant at Shahid Gangalal Hospital. It produces oxygen for 130 cylinders every day and they will go all across the Valley. We are going to establish a plant at Kanti Hospital within two months and that will be producing oxygen for 70 cylinders every day. This way we need not depend upon others.
Unable to handle the non-stop phone calls from people for help in requesting hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, many ward representatives have started switching off their phones. Don’t you think this is a time to make infrastructure overnight rather than wait for next week?
Yes, this is true. But at the moment the situation is such that even if a ward chair or I fall sick, we won’t get a hospital bed. People are chartering helicopters to come to Kathmandu for treatment. The sick are also coming in ambulances. It feels as though we are losing to the virus. Instead of checking the spread of the virus to prevent more people from falling sick, we are forced to increase the number of hospital beds.
Why is Kathmandu Metropolitan City so far behind regarding breaking the chain of transmission despite it having enough money, resources and manpower?
If we were only to give service to the citizens of Kathmandu, our resources are adequate. But the problem is we have to give services for people who come from Bhaktapur, Lalitpur and from all the 77 districts. I have heard that other cities in the Valley are doing good but their case is different. You have to be clear that the best hospitals are inside Kathmandu Metropolitan City whether they are public or private.
Lalitpur Metropolitan City has already established isolation centres with over 150 beds and even volunteers from communities are working for it. Bhaktapur Municipality says it had prepared months prior for a worst case scenario by establishing isolation centres and high dependency unit beds. Why could Kathmandu Metropolitan City not make preparations earlier?
We are preparing. We need to make it well managed. Just getting space is not enough. We need to add beds, infrastructure and we need health workers. We need to do it very well. Let’s forget about yesterday. Let’s work for today.
Last year due to the extension of the lockdown many people were forced to come to Khula Manch for free food distributed by different organisations. But the City was criticised for being indifferent to the plight of the poor. Does the City have any plans not to repeat last year’s problems as the prohibitory orders are going to be extended?
Nobody should die of hunger this time. I request everyone to contact their ward
offices if they do not have food to eat. We have already published notice through ward offices. Besides that, all shops will be open in the morning. There won’t be a shortage of food in the market.
But even now a large number of people are flocking behind Prasuti Griha at Thapathali for free meals. Why is the City not working for them?
People should not move around that way as it will lead to the spread of the virus. They should not move from one place to another. I again request them to contact their ward offices. They will get a meal and won’t die of hunger.