As the nation has been hit hard by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts have been warning that even a fatal situation might be observed if the public health standards are not followed duly. Currently, over 9,000 new cases of COVID-19 are being reported daily.
Bishnu Pandey of The Rising Nepal talked to public health specialist Dr. Rabindra Pandey about the current scenario of the nation in its battle against the second wave of the pandemic. Excerpts:
For how long would the current situation of the pandemic last in Nepal?
The chain of infection can be broken if we strictly abide by the public health standards and stay in our homes for three weeks. The upcoming three weeks are very challenging for us. Thus, everyone must stay inside and request everyone else to stay in for three weeks to break the chain.
If it is urgent for anyone to step out, then s/he must wear a double mask, frequently sanitise themselves, and maintain six-foot distance with everyone else. Meetings and hangouts should be prevented as much as possible and if it is essential to conduct meetings, then it should be done in a well-ventilated room. This will reduce the possibility of the spread of the virus.
All cultural ceremonies like marriages and Jatras must be postponed for now as public health and safety come before these rites.
Due to the grave situation created by the pandemic, everyone is in fear. Thus, as our willpower is the biggest weapon to defeat the virus, we must make ourselves strong.
I repeat, if we stay at home for the upcoming three weeks with strong willpower, the infection rate of the virus will start decreasing.
Is it necessary in the current scenario to declare a health emergency?
Yes, the time has come for the government to declare a public health emergency. If an emergency is declared, all hospital beds and human resources of private hospitals can be used by the government.
We have seen many instances where the hospitals are hiding beds and other equipment required for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Thus, in order to make sure that the hospitals do not conduct any irregularity during the time of crisis, a health emergency should be declared.
In comparison to the first wave, how infectious is the virus in the second wave?
Last year, the threat of the infection was very high in public while the virus was of a weak nature. The nation did not face scarcity of oxygen and hospital beds last year.
The virus this year is two times fatal than last year. The COVID-19 death rate has surged to 1 per cent this year. It was 0.6 per cent last year. This proves that the second wave of coronavirus is deadly. The death rate in India has also increased after the second wave.
Are those who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine still at risk?
It is a myth that coronavirus would not infect those who have received both doses of vaccine. One can contract the virus even after receiving a full dose of the vaccine if he does not follow the public health standards. Also, a vaccinated person can transmit the virus to others.
However, the chances of having a serious illness are less after vaccination. A vaccinated person is safe from the virus even if s/he contracts it.
No cases of death of those who were fully inoculated have been reported yet in Nepal.
How effective are the steps taken by the government against COVID-19?
In a nation like ours with minimal resources, the efforts made by the government to prevent and control the virus should be taken positively. The steps taken by the government are praiseworthy.
However, much more needs to be done. For an instance, contact tracing is not being done effectively. The government is yet to increase test and surveillance at the community level. Special attention must be paid to manage the procurement and import of vaccines as soon as possible.
Similarly, generating public awareness is the most important thing in the current scenario. Thus, it is vital for the government and citizens to unite in this battle against COVID-19.
What role should doctors, hospitals, and patients play to control the spread of the virus?
The fact that doctors are working round-the-clock for the treatment of virus-infected patients is praiseworthy.
If a central command system is made to ensure that the health protocols are followed in all districts, then a quality health service can be provided to the patients, which will further increase their willpower to fight the infection.
We hear many news reports about the hospitals not admitting patients due to the unavailability of beds. This should be stopped immediately. It requires billions of rupees to establish a hospital. Thus, hospitals must spend in installing oxygen plants, oxygen houses, increasing the capacity of ICUs, and provide training to the staffers for the operation of ICUs and ventilators.
Even if a patient cannot be admitted then s/he must be referred to other hospitals. This will ensure that the COVID-19 patient would get treatment on time.
In this crisis situation, the hospitals have a huge responsibility of saving lives. Thus, rather than being profit-oriented, the hospitals should focus on being service-oriented. The services provided by hospitals should not be biased.
Likewise, patients should immediately conduct RT-PCR tests immediately if they have symptoms such as fever, cough, body pain, redness of the eye, dysentery, and allergies. Half the treatment is done if the disease is identified on time.
The government has issued guidelines for those staying in home isolation as well. The patients must abide by it. They should visit the nearest fever clinic if the oxygen level drops below 92. If the infected patient is suffering from a serious illness then doctors must be consulted immediately.
Avoiding negative news reports and social media would help in increasing the willpower of patients at home isolation as I've already said, strong willpower is the weapon to defeat the infection.