It is now evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has reached a tipping point, prompting the government to impose stricter form of lockdown in the Kathmandu Valley since Thursday morning. The growing number of virus cases and the fatalities caused by it has set alarm bells ringing. Last Friday alone, the country recorded 11 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest single-day tally. The health authorities still believe that COVID-19 outbreak has not developed into a full-blown pandemic in the Valley but they agreed that the situation reached a critical stage. Many public health experts insisted that the coronavirus has already transmitted to the densely populated settlements inside the Valley.
There is a reason behind this argument. The recent virus cases found in the security personnel and local people show that the infected had no travel history. Of 17 traffic cops working at the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, most of them had been working inside their office. Similarly, the virus-infected persons from Koteshwor, Maitidevi and Ghattekulo had also no travel history. Nor had they come into contact with any coronavirus patients. Now that the Valley is under prohibitory orders for a week, the authorities should optimally utilise this period to break the transmission chain. For this, they should focus on effective contact-tracing, mass testing in the suspected areas, and ramping up health facilities – quarantines, isolation centres, ICU wards and arrangement of sufficient number of ventilators. Besides, the government needs to deploy experienced human resources with sufficient protective gears.
The government has stepped up measures to respond to the medical emergency. According to a news report of this daily, the cabinet meeting Thursday decided to form a Kathmandu Valley Integrated Quarantine Management Committee headed by the Home Secretary. In the first phase, the committee will set up quarantines to accommodate about 6,000 persons and will expand them, if required. This is an apt move, as the government has decided to resume international flights to bring in Nepalis stranded in different countries from September1. Likewise, it has decided to admit the COVID-19 patients to hospitals only if they have developed symptoms. The asymptomatic patients will be advised to stay in home isolation under the monitoring of the representatives of local bodies. Experts say that asymptomatic patients can be cured quickly if they are treated at home.
In yet another important move, the government announced to convert any private hospital and medical college into dedicated COVID-19 treatment hospitals in case the state-owned health facilities are overwhelmed. The government can mobilise doctors and health workers from any hospitals for the treatment of coronavirus patients. Meanwhile, the Department of Drug Administration (DDA) has signed a deal with Indian company Mylan to import Remdesivir, an antiviral injection used to treat COVID-19 patients with serious symptoms. Originally prepared to cure the Ebola patients in 2009, Remdesivir will be available at Rs. 7,600 per vial. This is a positive move at a time when people were forced to pay several times higher amounts for this medicine in the black market. An array of initiatives, taken by the government, can yield positive outcomes if the citizens obey the prohibitory orders and follow health precautions against the virus. The decisive battle against the raging pandemic can be won only when people in general behave responsibly at this difficult moment.