After Health Ministry bowed out, municipal officials bear the brunt of the Covid-19 crisisWard chiefs say they are flooded with phone calls from people asking for hospital beds. Kathmandu lacks isolation or quarantine facilities, infected persons can't access bottled oxygen.
On Friday, the Health Ministry publicly said Covid-19 cases were rising alarmingly and with hospitals running out of beds, the health system was losing control of the situation. That spread terror among the people, and many criticised the government’s announcement as ‘irresponsible.’
Although the ministry issued the statement and the ministers used it as an excuse to evade responsibility for the public health crisis, now it’s the municipal ward representatives who are bearing the brunt of the crisis as they are the ones facing the ailing public.
Unable to handle non-stop phone calls requesting hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, many ward representatives have reportedly gone out of contact by switching off their phones.
“Common people do not have access to the ministers and mayors, so whenever they are in difficulties, the people contact us but we can do nothing to help them,” said Mukunda Rijal, ward-16 chairperson of the Kathamandu Metropolitan City.
When the Post tried to contact Rijal on his official cell phone, it was switched off but when approached on his personal phone number, he responded
“Every day I get over 150 calls from people seeking assistance for Covid-19 treatment, and many people even curse me with foul words when I am unable to help them. I can understand they are under immense stress,” said Rijal.
He said most of the requests are for hospital beds. “Today alone, I received over a dozen calls asking for hospital beds, and some hard-pressed people ask for financial help from the ward office for their treatment at private hospitals,” said Rijal.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s data show there were 102 Covid-19 cases in the ward until Saturday, but Rijal on Sunday claimed there are over 200 new infections because many infected people are not reporting. “Over 200,000 people live in my ward and many people are infected but they are not going to hospitals. Moreover we don’t conduct even 100 polymerase chain reaction tests per day,” said Rijal.
He said although the role of his ward office is to help the public, the office itself is helpless in lack of manpower and funds to provide treatment or set up an isolation center for the infected. He said the ward office hasn’t even been able to provide an ambulance service.
On Sunday the country reported 7,137 new cases, the highest-single day surge of the coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic in January last year. Of this, the Kathmandu Valley recorded 3,595 new infections in the past 24 hours and the Kathmandu district alone accounted for 2,744 cases
According to the Public Health Department of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, over 60 percent of the daily new infections in Kathmandu district are from the Kathmandu Metropolitan City itself.
“There aren’t isolation centers or quarantine facilities in the metropolitan city, many infected persons are in need of oxygen, but it’s not easily available,” said Gyan Bahadur Oli, Covid-19 focal person for the city’s Health Department.
“It’s so true that locally elected representatives, especially ward chairperson, are in great pressure to serve the people but they do not have any resources,” said Oli.
He said the Department is carrying out only 200 PCR tests for the entire 32 wards per day, which he says is grossly inadequate.
The Department’s data updated on Saturday show that the City had 1,661 new Covid-19 cases, and total infections to date stand at 37,437 with 262 deaths.
Meanwhile, when the Post contacted Shobha Sapkota, ward-14 chairperson, her cell phone was also switched up. But after sending a text message she called back and informed that she is infected with the coronavirus and is in home isolation for the past five days.
The ward that consists of Kuleshwar, Kalanki and Kalimati area has 166 active Covid-19 cases, and majority population in the area comprises working class people.
She said she too has been receiving over 80 phone calls per day. “I switch my phone off when I get tired, but I have been responding as far as possible. Most of the requests are for hospital beds,” said Sapkota.
She said she has been referring people to private hospitals as the government hospitals are already overwhelmed.
During the first wave of the pandemic last year, the ward was the most affected in the City and was sealed for some time after a sudden surge in cases.
Similarly, Chinkaji Maharjan, 49, chairman of Ward 22 that consists of Kathmandu’s business district including New Road, Khicha Pokhari and Sundhara area says he is also tired of answering the phone.
“A big problem I have seen is people are not going for Covid-19 tests out of fear even after their entire family are showing symptoms of the coronavirus disease,” said Maharjan. He too admitted that his office has not been able to carry out enough numbers of PCR tests and contact-tracing.
“After this second wave hit the country, we haven’t conducted even a single PCR test in our ward,” said Maharjan.
“Maybe by the end of this week we will start carrying out PCR tests in our ward for symptomatic people only,” he said.
“Only if the city, and the central and provincial governments helped with subsidised beds and oxygen supply many people from poor economic backgrounds can get treatment,” said Maharjan.