Coronavirus sneaks into Baluwatar as five of Oli’s aides and 70 security personnel test positiveConcerns grow about the prime minister, given his age and his health condition. Oli, 68, underwent his second kidney transplant only in March this year.
A Washington Post headline on Saturday screamed: “Trump seemed to defy the laws of science and disease. Then, the coronavirus caught up with him.” The American paper was referring to Donald Trump, the president of the United States, contracting Covid-19. Trump remains hospitalised for the virus.
In Nepal, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli too has so far defied science and made light of the coronavirus, oftentimes making statements like the disease can be kept at bay by drinking “turmeric water”. “Just sneeze and chase the virus away,” said Oli once, addressing the Parliament.
The good thing is Oli has not tested positive for the coronavirus yet. What’s concerning though is five of his close confidantes have. As many as 70 security personnel deployed at Baluwatar, too, have tested positive for the virus.
“It will be better if the prime minister immediately goes into isolation,” said Dr Santa Kumar Das, coordinator of the Covid-19 management team at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital. “It’s of course concerning that his advisers and others close to him have tested positive.
Oli’ s chief adviser Bishnu Rimal, foreign affairs adviser Rajan Bhattarai, press adviser Surya Thapa, chief personal secretary Indra Bhandari and photographer at the prime minister’s private secretariat Rajan Kafle have tested positive for the virus.
Rimal, Bhattarai, Thapa and Bhandari announced through social media that they have tested positive for the virus and asked those whom they had come in contact with to take the necessary precautions.
Since the job of Rimal, Bhattarai and Thapa is to work closely with Oli, who underwent a second kidney transplant in March, doctors say there is a need to take extra precautions.
Oli is 68 years old and he has underlying conditions. And he is a male. Several studies carried out in Spain, England, Italy and Geneva in Switzerland suggest that being a male is also a factor who could be at high risk after contracting the virus.
A study published by www.nature.com revealed that men are more vulnerable to the infection than women—the gap is increasing with age.
“Men face twice the risk of women,” Beatriz Pérez-Gómez, an epidemiologist at the Carlos III Institute of Health in Madrid, who was involved in the Spanish study published in the Nature Research Journal, was quoted as saying.
“I don’t know how long the prime minister was exposed to the infected people,” Dr Anup Bastola, spokesperson for the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital. “But since five of his close associates have tested positive, the prime minister should be in quarantine and get tested.”
Though Oli’s advisers said the likelihood of him contracting the virus was minimal, given the cases across the world, it would be too early to rule this out. Many of the world leaders have joined the growing list of those with coronavirus. And some of them are those who made light of the disease.
Trump is the latest addition to the list. The Foreign Policy magazine has listed at least around a dozen and a half world leaders with the virus, including Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who always mocked the virus.
Like Trump and Bolsonaro, Oli too has never taken the virus seriously, at times declaring from Parliament that “Nepalis’ immunity is strong” and that Covid-19 can be cured by drinking turmeric water.
“Corona is like the flu,” said Oli while addressing the Parliament back in June. “If contracted, one should sneeze, drink hot water and drive the virus away.”
Defying science and disregarding experts have been the hallmark of the Oli administration ever since the virus was first reported in the country in January.
As of Saturday, 84,570 cases have been reported with 528 deaths in the country. In the last 24 hours, 2,120 people tested positive including 1,177 in Kathmandu Valley.
Oli’s advisers who tested positive said they always “maintained distance” while meeting with him.
“We maintained distance and we always wore masks,” Bhattarai, Oli’s foreign relations adviser, told the Post. “The prime minister was recently tested for the virus and his results came out negative.”
According to officials familiar with the matter, the prime minister’s swabs were tested on Thursday and the results were negative for the coronavirus.
Why this development was not made public is a mystery, but Baluwatar sources say, firstly, there was no need and, second, the results came negative. But many say this too is part of the way Baluwatar functions when it comes to transparency. In the Oli administration, flow of information has been hugely blocked—at times even the Cabinet decisions are hidden.
Dr Arun Sayami, who has been monitoring the prime minister’s health for years, said that it was not necessary to tell the public every time the prime minister undergoes tests.
“It is important to inform the public about the test results if his [the prime minister’s] advisers test positive,” said Sayami. “People will definitely get concerned about the health of the country’s executive head. But it is not necessary to tell the public every time the prime minister undergoes a test.”
According to Sayami, the good and important thing is that the prime minister has tested negative so far, which has been informed to the public.
Information about the prime minister’s test and the results coming negative, however, came to the public domain only on Saturday when four of his advisers tested positive for the coronavirus.
Bhattarai said that the prime minister, as per the health protocol, will isolate himself, as he has always strictly followed it.
“I don’t know the latest status though,” Bhattarai told the Post.
According to Ram Sharan Bajgain, the prime minister’s communication expert, Baluwatar has always been like an isolation centre where meetings are held only if they are extremely important by strictly following health protocols.
“There are several ways of working without physical presence. Now we are working from home using an online medium,” said Bajgain, who too is waiting for Covid-19 test results.
Oli’s personal physician Dibya Singh Shah too had tested positive for the coronavirus some nine days ago and that too, according to doctors, is a cause for concern.
“Why was there no declaration from Baluwatar about the prime minister going into quarantine?” said a doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
US President Trump had declared on October 1 that he and Melania Trump were beginning the quarantine process after a senior adviser who was often with the couple tested positive.
However, there has been no word from Baluwatar despite at least Oli’s five close associates testing positive for the coronavirus.
Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, said it is the right of the public to know the health condition of the country’s chief executive.
“It would have been better if the Prime Minister’s Secretariat had made such information public,” Marasini told the Post. “Telling people about the health condition and test reports of the prime minister is a democratic culture.”