Kathmandu Metropolitan City unprepared to deal with second wave of Covid-19The city is yet to set up quarantine and isolation centres despite circular from the Home Ministry to do so.
Following a surge in Covid-19 cases in neighbouring India, the Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday evening issued a circular to all the district administration offices and local governments to keep isolation and quarantine centres on standby and follow all health protocols.
The circular came a day after the Ministry of Health issued a notice asking members of the public to strictly follow precautionary measures and not organise gatherings and formal events. It said that those who don’t follow health protocols such as wearing masks or maintaining physical distance will be punished as per the Infectious Disease Act 2020.
However, cities such as Kathmandu, the biggest metropolis in the country with over 1.6 million population and a past hotspot of Covid-19 transmission looks totally unprepared to deal with a potential surge in Covid-19 cases.
When the pandemic struck the city last year, 254 people had died 24,662 people were infected with the coronavirus. Twelve percent of the people infected in the country were residents of Kathmandu.
The Ministry of Health and Population said on Wednesday that 145 new cases were reported in the country with total infection reaching 276,389.
City officials have neither discussed nor made plans to contain the virus, which has already started a second wave of infections in India.
“As the number of cases are steadily going up in India, Nepal, especially authorities in Kathmandu, should be more cautious as the city had become a hotspot few months ago,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Hospital.
Last year, Kathmandu’s Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya, also the chairperson of the Valley Mayors’ Forum, had announced plans to build integrated isolation facilities for 5,000 people. But his office hasn’t taken any steps to do so.
City Spokesperson Ishwor Man Dangol said officials are consulting the federal and government to take precautions against Covid-19. “But we haven’t come up with a decision yet,” said Dangol.
Doctors and virologists have been saying that authorities should let go of their reactive mindset and take proactive measures to fight the virus.
Last year, the government announced a months-long nationwide lockdown, but the city didn't make use of the time to prepare quarantine and isolation centres for its public.
Deputy Mayor Hari Prabha Khadgi said it was a grave mistake on the part of the mayor and to ignore the threat of the disease. “This time also, the mayor seems reluctant to act. Realising his past mistakes, he should have convened a meeting with experts, but he has not done anything yet,” said Khadgi.
“I had personally requested him to prepare an isolation and quarantine centre, but he wouldn’t listen. This time I am going to insist that we prepare such centres,” said Khadgi.
Even ward chiefs were not happy with the way the city chief became passive when the metropolis was witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases last year.
“Last year the issue of Covid-19 was politicised, there was no good communication between local, federal and central government, and it’s because our mayor was not active,” said Nilkaji Shakya, chairman of Kathmandu’s Ward 25.
At a time when people were forced to live on an empty stomach, seeking relief materials and hospital beds in the city, Mayor Shaka had tested positive for Covid-19 in late August. He was found to have isolated himself at a five-star hotel in Kathmandu.
Now, six months later, doctors have been alerting city officials to make it compulsory for members of the general to wear masks and avoid large gatherings. The government has urged people to avoid mass gatherings, but core city areas such as Ason, Indra Chowk, and Jamal are brimming with people and public vehicles are carrying passengers beyond their seat capacity.
According to the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division everyday, 37,000 people enter the Kathmandu Valley from various entry points of the Valley. Officials at the division said they haven’t started screening people who enter the Kathmandu Valley from outside.
When the Post contacted Madhyapur Thimi Municipality Mayor Madan Sundar Shrestha, also the secretary of Kathmandu Valley Mayors’ Forum, he said the forum hasn’t convened to take decisions on precautions ahead of a possible second wave of infections. “We are preparing to talk,” said Shrestha.