A challenging situation has now emerged in Nepal with a substantial increase in the number of COVID-19 infections and fatalities after the outbreak of the second wave of the pandemic. The situation has turned worse from bad following the detection of some new coronavirus variants which are believed to be much deadlier than the original version of COVID-19. Even children and youths, whose immune system is stronger than that of the elderly and other groups with underlying conditions, seem to be catching the virus disease faster than ever. The growing trend of hospitalisations and scarcity of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, oxygen and ventilators even in the major urban centres like Kathmandu, Nepalgunj, Birgunj, Dharan and Biratnagar indicates the severity of the problem. There is also a shortage of medical human resources in various health institutions, including the Bheri Hospital in Nepalgunj. Scores of health workers in Bheri Hospital are reported to have been infected with the virus disease.
To cope with this grim scenario, the federal government has dispatched a team of 50 health workers to Nepalgunj to look after COVID-19 patients. Some of the infected health workers have been forced to serve the ever increasing number of patients there. Against this backdrop, the government has imposed a 15-day prohibitory order in the Kathmandu Valley starting from Thursday. The same move has been taken in some other districts, too, in order to deal with the contagion. Looking at the worsening situation of many other regions and districts, the government has authorised the concerned district administration offices to impose restrictions for up to 15 days if the active COVID-19 cases increase to 200 in rural and urban areas of the hilly and mountain regions. The local authorities, however, can enforce such restrictions in the Kathmandu Valley and Terai districts when 500 new cases of the pandemic are reported per day.
The government has introduced the alternative attendance and work from home system in public offices and essential service providers to reduce crowds and infection risks. This initiative is expected to help control the virus spread, to some extent. To prevent the community transmission of the virus, the government has introduced the provision for Nepali citizens entering Nepal by land from India to stay at home quarantine for 10 days under the supervision of the local levels. Similarly, the government has come up with a decision to allow Indian and Chinese nationals to enter Nepal by land. They, however, are required to produce negative results of PCR tests conducted within 72 hours. They should also ensure that they have booked a hotel and are prepared to stay in quarantine for 10 days. Likewise, the citizens of third countries other than the two immediate neighbours are permitted to enter the country by air alone.
The provision of PCR negative tests done within 72 hours and an evidence of hotel booking are mandatory even for third country nationals. Meanwhile, the Nepali Army (NA) has been entrusted with the responsibility of setting up multi-purpose holding centres with a capacity of 1,000 persons at Indian border points and one in Kathmandu. The holding centres are going to be established at Gaddhachauki of Kanchanpur, Gauriphanta of Dhangadhi, Jamunaha of Banke, Krishnanagar of Kapilvastu, Belahiya of Rupandehi, Rani of Morang, Birgunj of Parsa and Kakarbhitta of Jhapa. As the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be highly successful in reining in the pandemic, the government needs to resume the vaccination drive at the earliest with top priority.