In a rare show, ruling party leaders censure government over virus test and treatment moveIt seems the government has thrown in the towel in the fight against the virus and is running away from its responsibility which will tarnish the party’s image among the people, insiders say.
Nepal Communist Party members are rarely critical of their government.
But a Sunday announcement that the people should pay for Covid-19 tests and treatment on their own has enraged even some ruling party lawmakers.
Dr Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, said on Sunday that the government will pay for Covid-19 tests and treatment for only those who are financially poor and who are frontline workers. According to Gautam, the government will provide free tests and treatment to only the poor, single women, disabled people, frontline health workers, security personnel and cleaning staff.
The decision goes against a recent Supreme Court ruling asking not to charge people for Covid-19 tests and treatment.
“It’s your failure if you have accepted defeat and have put up your hands. You can leave and a capable person will handle it,” said Ram Kumari Jhakri, a ruling party lawmaker hinting at the government’s leadership. “It’s been too much now.”
The Oli government’s response to Covid-19 has been poor from the onset and after cases started to rise at an alarming rate, it gradually gave up on its fight against the pandemic.
Nepal reported its first Covid-19 case in January, but authorities including the prime minister and his ministers downplayed the virus. The government suddenly imposed a lockdown starting March 24, when there were just two cases reported, and lifted it on July 21. No substantial measures–improving health care infrastructure, expanding tests, making contact tracing effective and increasing intensive care beds and ventilators–were taken during the lockdown period. By the time the lockdown was lifted, the number of Covid-19 cases had crossed the 17,000 mark.
On Monday, the Health Ministry said Nepal’s Covid-19 tally reached 136,036. Of them, 118,042 infections and 717 deaths have been confirmed since July 22, a day after the government decided to end the nationwide lockdown.
A total of 17,994 cases and 40 deaths were registered until July 21.
The number of active cases as of Monday stands at 40,778 and the death toll at 757.
An internal projection of the Ministry of Health says an additional 320,000 people will be infected with the coronavirus if the number of infections remains at 2,665 per day.
Jhakri said she is wondering how the poor and underprivileged would get treatment, as she, as a lawmaker, had to struggle hard to find a bed when one of her relatives was infected.
“I could not manage the bed,” Jhakri told the Post. “Things are getting serious by the day and people are dying for want of treatment. But the government is shirking its responsibility.”
Jhankri also took umbrage at the leadership for engaging in making unnecessary appointments, thereby putting extra pressure on the state coffers, while asking people to pay for tests and treatment on their own.
Some ruling party members said they were surprised at the government’s failure to abide by the court.
“I'm extremely surprised as this government decision is against the Supreme Court’s directive,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member. “An elected government cannot defy the highest court’s ruling.”
According to Pant, the government is under constitutional obligations to uphold people's fundamental right to health and for that a court order is not even required.
“The government has to cut other unnecessary costs so as to ensure that people get health care services. In the current context, it is tests and treatment for the people for the coronavirus,” Pant told the Post. “The government cannot run away from its duty to upholding people’s rights guaranteed by the constitution on the pretext of not having enough funds. If the government is in a real financial crisis, it should issue a white paper.”
The Oli government’s indifference towards the people, however, has been there for quite some time. A few months ago, Gautam, the Health Ministry spokesperson, had chided the members of the public for not using masks. “People are not spending even ten rupees on a mask and expecting the government to do everything for them,” Gautam had said during one of the regular press briefings.
Ruling party leaders say the party leadership must take the responsibility of the government’s failure in fighting the pandemic.
“We are now facing the situation of Spain and Italy due to the failure of our government,” said Jhakri. “The party top leadership must take responsibility for this failure.”
Ruling party leaders say their government, which has already faced a lot of criticism, will face more moral questions if it continues to come up with decisions like leaving the citizens fend for themselves. Such decisions will damage the reputation of the party and the entire communist movement, according to them.
“People have lost jobs. Economic activities have ground to a halt,” said Matrika Yadav, another Standing Committee member. “Now the government is saying it cannot test and treat its people. Oli has no plans to combat the virus. But he has been taking random decisions, which rarely matter to the people and cater to their concerns.”
Yadav even went on to say that time has come to build an atmosphere that is conducive to getting things done or else the present situation would damage the image of the communist party and its movements.
“The government has money to distribute to lawmakers but not for the treatment of the people,” he said. “This is ludicrous.”
Some ruling party leaders even questioned how the government came up with the decision on who should be tested and treated for free and who should not.
“How can the government identify who is rich and who is poor, as there are no such regulations or directives,” said Khimlal Bhattarai, chief whip of the ruling party at the National Assembly. “So without having the criteria, the government cannot implement the decision.”
The main opposition, Nepali Congress, too has objected to the government’s decision to force people to pay for tests and treatment.
Issuing a press statement, Congress spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma said that the Nepali Congress has taken the decision of the government, which has already failed to protect the citizens from the coronavirus, to dodge its responsibility of testing and treating people as “an extremely irresponsible act.”
“Why do we need a government if it cannot treat people in this pandemic?” the statement reads. “Be more sensitive, prime minister. Correct the decision.”
Congress chief whip Balkrishna Khand said his party would resort to street protests after the Tihar festival if the government does not correct its decision.
“Why do we need a government that ignores court orders and cannot uphold the constitutional rights of the people?” said Khand. “By taking such a decision, the current government has made us feel like there actually is no government in the country.”
Meanwhile, the government on Monday allowed, once again, chief district officers to impose prohibitory orders in their respective districts if the number of cases surpass 500.
"Chief district officers can regulate and manage or control flow of the vehicles in their districts having more than 200 active cases, while they can impose restrictions on services and activities if the number of active cases reach 500," said Minister for Communication and Information Technology Parbat Gurung, also the government spokesperson, at a press conference.