Covid-19 preparedness and response lax in Kathmandu Metropolitan CityHealth experts warn the City cannot afford to repeat last year’s mistakes this time as the situation is much worse.
Last Monday, the Cabinet issued a slew of restrictions to contain the second wave of Covid-19. It accordingly directed both provincial and local governments to take necessary measures to check the spread of the disease.
A week later, the chiefs of three districts in the Kathmandu Valley—Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur—decided to impose prohibitory orders effective from Thursday in an effort to tame the surging Covid-19 infection and death rates.
However, even after a week of Cabinet’s decision, the local bodies of Kathmandu have not implemented any of the protective measures to stem the virus.
This is largely due to the lack of coordination between the local, provincial and federal governments, according to officials.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City itself seems inactive, just as it was last year when Covid-19 cases were spiralling.
In its decisions published on April 19, the federal government has clearly directed the local bodies to take necessary measures to check coronavirus spread, including construction of isolation and quarantine centres and setting up hand wash stands.
However, the City, which became a Covid-19 hotspot last year, does not seem prepared to handle the growing number of cases.
As of Monday, Kathmandu has recorded a total of 36,367 Covid-19 infections and 256 deaths.
Of the total 1,912 new infections in Kathmandu Valley reported on Monday, 1,567 confirmed cases were in Kathmandu district alone. Experts say among the cases reported in Kathmandu district on Monday, over 60 percent were from the City.
On Monday, while hospitals were under strain from Covid-19 surge, Kathmandu Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya was busy inaugurating a gym at Sankhapark.
Meanwhile, his office has not heeded any of the suggestions from public health experts or the federal government to control the contagion. It has neither installed new hand wash stands nor repaired the old ones. Isolation and quarantine facilities have not been set up. People entering Kathmandu from different parts of the country are not being monitored.
When the Post inquired Hari Kunwar, the chief of the public health division of the City, about Covid-19 preparedness and response plan, he said there has not been any concrete decisions yet.
“We alone cannot make decisions. The municipalities of all three districts should come up with an integrated plan,” Kunwar said. “We are planning to construct isolation centres with oxygen plants but we have not discussed the details.”
Last year in August, Mayor Shakya, who also leads the Valley’s mayor forum, had announced a plan to build integrated isolation centers to accommodate 5,000 people but the project never came to fruition.
Kunwar said the City shelved the plan as the number of Covid-19 cases started to decline.
“Just as the City was working to construct integrated isolation centres last October, the number of infections came down and the situation became normal. We are once again seeing a surge in cases,” said Kunwar.
Mayor of Thimi Municipality in Bhaktapur Madan Sundar Shrestha, also the secretary of the Valley’s mayor forum, said the forum till date has not discussed any integrated approach to contain the virus.
“We are working independently. We tried to work together last year but that approach didn't work,” said Shrestha. “There hasn’t been any meeting of the forum.”
As infections continue to soar in the Valley, public health experts say it should be the Kathmandu Metropolitan City spearheading the efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“The City has adequate manpower, more than enough money and all the necessary equipment to control the virus. The only thing it seems to lack right now is focus,” said Dr Baburam Marasini, former director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City has a population of over 1.6 million. Many of its residents live in dense settlements, where the risk of coronavirus spread is very high.
Doctors warn if the City fails to build the necessary infrastructure to manage its infected population at the earliest, the crisis could be abysmal.
Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief medical officer at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital in Teku, said even though it is the government that has announced the prohibitory orders, it's the local bodies that should enforce the Covid-19 protocols and containment measures.
“The City cannot afford to repeat last year’s mistakes this time. The situation is much worse now,” he said.