Covid-19 crisis fails to unite Nepali Congress leadersRank and file of the opposition receive different messages from top leadership and are confused about the official stance of the party, insiders say.
The country’s principal opposition party, the Nepali Congress, has failed to put up a unified front against the government’s handling of the crisis in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Top leaders, who continue to bicker over issues related to the party’s internal politics, are issuing public statements on their own, leaving members of the party and the public confused about the Nepali Congress’ official stance on the pandemic and its handling by the government.
“In this time of crisis, the Nepali Congress will support the government, but stand strongly against any dilly-dallying, irregularities and corruption,” said party Spokesperson Biswa Prakash Sharma when asked about the party’s stance on events that have unfolded in the past few weeks.
But Sharma’s stance does not add up with statements issued by top leaders of the party since the epidemic began. While some leaders have criticised the management of the crisis, others have gone on to demand that a government of national unity be formed and the elections be held at the earliest.
Leaders should understand the potential impact of their statements when they put forward unrealistic demands, said Congress leader Pradeep Poudel. “Some leaders love the publicity they get after making such statements. But such statements create problems often.”
The party’s Joint General Secretary Prakash Sharan Mahat, during a television interview, demanded that the government announce fresh elections as it has failed in every aspect. As Mahat is considered an ally of party chief Sher Bahadur Deuba, many thought that he was speaking on behalf of the former prime minister.
After his statement created an uproar inside the party, Mahat was forced to defend himself on Sunday. “My interview was misinterpreted and distorted,” said Mahat, denying that he made any such statement. “I was just interpreting the kind of political situation that may arise after the current crisis is over.”
It’s not just the second-rung leaders who are making public statements without consulting the party, top leaders are also doing the same.
After cases of coronavirus surfaced in the far-west, Deuba on Sunday called up half a dozen former prime ministers and urged them to unite in the fight of the outbreak.
After the lockdown began on March 24, Deuba has issued four statements, senior leader Ramchandra Poudel has done two Facebook live sessions and General Secretary Shashanka Koirala issued two statements. While the three leaders criticised the government over alleged corruption in the procurement of medical equipment from China, they remained mum on the government’s decision to assign the army to buy essential medical supplies.
Political commentators ask Congress leaders to mend their ways in the face of the crisis. Some commentators such as Shreekrishna Aniruddh Gautam suggest that they take a leaf from the approach adopted by former health minister Gagan Thapa, who has been suggesting measures to the government to fight the outbreak effectively.
Thapa argues that this government should be given continuity and the main opposition should refrain from making any political statements in this time of crisis.
“After this crisis is over, I think serious brainstorming is needed for an alternative to this government,” said Gautam.“But in the midst of the crisis, it is not wise to demand a national government or hold elections. Instead, the Nepali Congress should support the plan and strategy that Gagan Thapa has proposed,” said Gautam.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 27, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 had spread to 210 countries and infected more than 5,684,795 people with 352,225 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 150,793 with 4,344 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 57,705 confirmed cases with 1,197 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 772 cases with four deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.