Oli, once a Covid denier, catches the virusThe UML chair used to say the coronavirus can be driven away by sneezing or drinking turmeric water.
CPN-UML chair and former prime minister KP Sharma Oli has tested positive for Covid-19.
Sher Bahadur Tamang, a Standing Committee member of the party, said a PCR test on Saturday returned a positive result for Oli, 70.
Oli’s spouse Radhika Shakya, who tested positive in an antigen test, got her PCR test negative. Deputy head of the Central Publicity Department of the party Bishnu Rijal has clarified that Shakya has not contracted Covid-19.
His personal assistant Rajesh Bajracharya too has tested positive for the virus along with many others and therefore more tests are being carried out including on those working for Oli’s security, according to a member of Oli’s private secretariat.
“A test was conducted on Saturday after the party chair started feeling uneasy over the last few days,” said the member. “The test returned a positive result.”
The member said that the UML chair is now resting at home in Balkot.
Multiple people from Oli’s orbit said that more than 50 percent of his private secretariat members have tested positive for the virus and that the party chair was a contact a few days ago.
Oli recently was in Jhapa on January 9 where he addressed a mass gathering and on the next day he went to Sankhuwasabha. Since then he has attended a few functions of the party in Kathmandu. On January 14 he had been to Kavre to observe an agriculture farm but there was not much crowd.
Party leaders said he used to meet party’s cadres and leaders on a massive scale and that could have transmitted the virus. According to his aides, his secretariat, however, had managed his meetings in open space instead of indoors as a precaution in a bid to protect the chairman from Covid-19 after some party leaders including vice-chair Bishnu Poudel tested positive. Poudel had been to Sankhuwasabha with Chairman Oli on January 10.
Party leaders have said the chairman should have taken more precautions with the new highly contagious variant, Omicron, because of his health condition following the second renal transplant.
Oli falls under the category of immunocompromised. He underwent his second kidney transplant in March 2020.
This is the first time Oli has tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.
An aide to Oli said that he is fully vaccinated.
The aide, however, could not confirm if Oli had received a booster shot.
When people were contracting the virus, Oli was using Parliament or other platforms to undermine the virus threat, even peddling misinformation.
In his address to the nation on May 25, 2020, Oli said Nepalis would beat the virus because of their “strong willpower and immunity.”
Oli’ statement came just a month after Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said that Covid-19 was 10 times deadlier than the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic. “We can’t treat Covid-19 exactly the same way as we treat the flu because the coronavirus which causes Covid-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” Tedros had said.
When opposition lawmaker Gagan Thapa sought scientific evidence behind his claims, Oli openly ridiculed him.
“Who said Nepalis have strong immunity?” questioned Thapa, to which Oli said: “I just said a while ago; did not you hear?” and his party members burst into laughter.
A little over a week later, Oli lectured National Assembly members on the virus.
“Corona is like the flu,” Oli said. “If contracted, one should sneeze, drink hot water and drive the virus away.”
Oli even downplayed the number of deaths, saying there was a compulsion to attribute the deaths to Covid-19 because of the World Health Organisation protocol.
South Asia Check, which does fact checking, ran a story on Oli’s claims, the rumours and the truth.
Infectious disease experts say that former prime minister Oli is under the high risk group, as he is over 60 years old.
“Even if the Omicron variant is of mild type, it may cause severity on the people having underlying conditions and elderly people,’’ Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an infectious disease and critical care expert, told the Post. “We do not know if he is symptomatic or not, his health conditions should be monitored closely."
Several studies carried out in Spain, England, Italy and Switzerland in the past suggest that being a male is also a factor who could be at high risk after contracting the virus.
A study published last year in the Nature journal 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.
According to Adhikari, supportive treatment can be started to prevent severity if patients having underlying conditions have symptoms.
Dr Dibya Singh Shah, Oli’s personal physician, said the UML chair has been taking a lower dose of immunosuppressant medicine compared to what he used when his kidney was transplanted, therefore the risk of coronavirus will be at par with the normal people.
“I’m out of the Valley now but I don’t think there are any complications about his [Oli’s] health at this time,” Shah told the Post over the phone. “I will be able to tell you more if he has anything more than minor fever.”
Only recently, Oli claimed that his immune system is strong.
On January 5, while addressing a function, he said that his immunity must be strong.
“I am wondering why I have not caught Covid-19 yet,” he said. “I’m with the people [all the time]. I'm a person having my kidney transplanted. My immune system and immunity level is zero. My capacity against viruses is nil. I'm surrounded by a crowd of people. But still the corona could not catch me. What I believe is that I’m safe because I regularly do what our ancestors used to do.”
Oli, however, did not elaborate what the ancestors “used to do”.
“I have to take immunosuppressive medicines every time and therefore my immunity level is zero,” he said. “I don’t have resistance but have been resisting [Covid-19] continuously.”