Baluwatar keeps mum over Oli’s status even after his close aides tested positive for Covid-19No information has been shared if those who have contracted the virus had been in close contact with Oli and whether he’s quarantined himself. Instead, he met Dahal on Sunday.
Baluwatar has maintained an uncanny silence even as close to 150 people, including Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s five advisers, have tested positive for Covid-19 there. Nor has his Nepal Communist Party come up with any official statement.
Oli’s advisers Bishnu Rimal, Surya Thapa, Rajan Bhattarai and Indra Bhandari had taken to social media to announce that they had tested positive and urged all those who had come in close contact with them to take precautions.
According to Lila Bikram Thapa, a senior public health administrator at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, as of Sunday, 144 people from Baluwatar have tested positive.
As many as 23 people tested positive on Friday and 28 army and 18 police personnel tested positive some 11 days ago. Oli’s personal photographer Rajan Kafle tested positive seven days ago. Around nine days ago, Oli’s personal physician Dibya Singh Shah tested positive for Covid-19.
Public health experts and analysts say information must be disseminated regarding the coronavirus entering Baluwatar for two major reasons. First, Oli’s age and his underlying conditions. Oli is 68, he underwent a second kidney transplant only in March this year and he is thus immuno-compromised. Second is for reasons of transparency.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, said leaders seem to be ignoring the government’s health protocol.
“The protocol should be applicable to all, as the infection does not recognise who is a leader and who is a member of the public,” Pun told the Post.
As per his own government’s health protocol, Oli should have put himself in isolation after so many people around him have tested positive for the coronavirus, doctors say.
Given his health condition, Oli rarely steps out of Baluwatar. However, he has been meeting people, as party meetings and Cabinet meetings are held at Baluwatar. On Sunday, a day after his advisers declared that they had tested positive, Oli held a meeting with the other party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Dr GD Thakur, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, said the prime minister should have begun the quarantine process rather than meeting other leaders.
“The health protocol is applicable to the prime minister as well and he should strictly abide by it,” Thakur told the Post.
Baluwatar has not come up with any statement on how closely the prime minister was working with his advisers over the past few days. If they had not been in close contact with him, then that too must be made clear, according to Khemraj Regmi, executive president of Transparency International Nepal, who is also a former secretary of the government of Nepal.
Regmi said he is increasingly concerned if attempts are being made to cover up Oli’s health condition.
“The prime minister is not just an individual but an institution. Every citizen holds the right to know about their prime minister’s well-being,” Regmi told the Post. “Especially after his aides have tested positive, it becomes imperative that the government inform the public about the prime minister—whether he was in close contact with them, whether he has begun the quarantine process, whether his swab samples have been collected for testing and whether the result has come.”
The government and his party, however, have always been stingy when it comes to disseminating information about Oli’s health. In October-end last year, when Oli was suddenly admitted to a private health facility in Kathmandu, there were just murky details about his health condition.
After scores of people in Baluwatar tested positive, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has postponed its Secretariat meeting until further notice.
According to a member at Oli’s personal secretariat, his meetings have been hugely trimmed for the next few days.
“The prime minister has limited his meetings and has been meeting with people only if it is absolutely necessary,” said Ramsharan Bajgain, Oli’s media expert, who also tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday. “I cannot say why nothing has been made public with regards to the prime minister’s health, as it is the job of the doctors.”
According to Bajgain, Oli and his wife Radhika Shakya’s tests were performed on Thursday and that the results were negative.
“I cannot say how many times Covid-19 tests the prime minister has had in the past,” Bajgain told the Post.
Bajgain said he started his isolation on Sunday.
Apart from his meeting with Dahal on Sunday, Oli has been constantly meeting others almost on a daily basis. From September 24 to October 1, Oli attended three Cabinet meetings, which are known to the public. But there has been no information from Baluwatar on other meetings the prime minister has had with any other leader or his advisers, including those who have been infected with the virus.
According to sources, Oli’s personal photographer would spend around 10 to 12 hours with him until he went into isolation last week after testing positive for the virus.
Questions are also being asked if the prime minister’s advisers took a lackadaisical approach despite knowing that the virus had entered Baluwatar and refused to abide by the health protocol.
Multiple ruling party leaders told the Post that it is not unusual for Baluwatar to not make things transparent as Oli’s team has been a champion when it comes to hiding information.
“We barely know what happens in Baluwatar. There is minimal transparency in the Oli administration. The decision making process is poor, there is a lack of accountability and transparency,” said a Standing Committee member who did not want to be identified.
“We come to know about Baluwatar’s decisions and activities through the media. We too came to know through the media that the prime minister’s advisers had tested positive.”
The Prime Minister’s Office also expressed ignorance about Oli’s latest health status. An official said the office has no plans to issue any statement on the prime minister’s health as it itself is in the dark.
“We are not aware of the prime minister’s health status or his Covid-19 test,” said Shanker Nepal, spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office. “Health is a personal matter too. We don’t even know whether we should speak on such matters.”
The Post’s repeated attempts to reach Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, who is also the government spokesperson, regarding the government’s official view on Oli’s status and well-being went unanswered.
Party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said he had heard that the prime minister’s report had come negative. He said he was not aware if the prime minister has been tested again for Covid-19 after his advisers tested positive.
“The prime minister’s private secretariat should release an official statement about his Covid-19 status,” said Shrestha. “His secretariat must make it clear when the test was conducted, when the result came and whether it was positive or negative.”
(Arjun Poudel contributed reporting.)