Kathmandu, March 30: The entire world is presently battling to contain the spread of coronavirus, termed as COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation.
The virus which first emerged from Wuhan of Hubei province in China has already taken a pandemic turn. Bearing in mind the global health threat posed by it, several countries have gone into lockdown, as a precautionary measure against the deadly virus. In this connection, the Government of Nepal also announced a weeklong national lockdown beginning from March 24, which was extended Sunday to last till April 7.
The extension was as per the Cabinet meeting decision acting on the recommendation of the High-level Task Force on Coronavirus Infection Prevention, Control and Treatment headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel.
During the first lockdown, the government was successful in bringing medical equipment from the northern neighbor. As the government said it is also regularly taking health updates of Nepali residing across the world and trying its best to fulfill its responsibility towards the citizen.
This pandemic is likely to bring a shift in the world power dynamics as it has its enormous impact on the world scenario including political, economic and social sectors. Though rate of infection is relatively low, Nepal is also likely to face numerous political, economic, technical and other challenges ahead to fight and win against the Coronavirus.
Amid these challenges, in an interview with a team from the Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) comprising Executive Chair Shyamal Adhikari, Chief Editor Shyam Rimal and correspondent Prakash Silwal at his office on Friday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said,'' Almost all the countries across the globe are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic and the Nepali community abroad have also been affected by it.
The government is taking their updates through videoconferences with the help of its diplomatic missions and embassies in the respective countries, through personal telephone contacts and other available means of communication.'' As he said, the report is that migrant Nepali workers have so far faced no significant problem due to the pandemic.
Lately, three Nepalis in Bahrain and four in the United Arab of Emirates were confirmed to have tested positive for the coronavirus and are presently under medical treatment while two have been already recovered following treatment.
''We have been assured by these countries that Nepali community would be given treatment on par with their citizens. Moreover, we have been assured that those Nepali getting their labour contract expired or students having their VISA term over will be facing no legal issues during this crisis period," he said.
Besides, the government has ensured provisions for sending minimum expenditure to those students possessing 'no-objection' letter from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and those who are in need of doing part time jobs for their families, according to the Minister. He went on to say that the government was aware of the possibility that many Nepali could lose jobs and be pushed into economic and other crisis and it might have to go for rescue efforts if the COVID-19 crisis went long. ''We are minutely analysing the probability and likelihood of multi-dimensional impact on the economy. But again we are committed to taking appropriate measures to deal with the situation that we may face in the future on the right time. The government will leave no stone unturned to fulfill its responsibilities towards it citizens.''
Responding to queries on the government’s acknowledgment about COVID-19 hit Nepalis across the world, especially about four Nepalis reported to have contracted COVID-19 in Australia’s Granville at Sidney, Minister Gyawali said that the government has been regularly receiving information about Nepalis abroad including Australia and the USA. An American with roots in Nepal is learnt to have died due to COVID-19 while four others have been reported dead in the UK. Nepalis in Germany and Portugal are also learnt to have been infected with the deadly virus. The government, according to Gyawali, was coordinating with the government of these countries and monitoring the situation.
As the education consultancies have been requesting with the government of Nepal either to return Nepalis students in Australia or arrange appropriate facilities for them there, the Minister said that there was no plan as of now to return the Nepalis students studying in various countries. It is not safe to consider about travelling at this time from the security viewpoint.
The Minister further said, “As we have seen that among the five tested positive for COVID-19 so far in Nepal, all of them were foreign returnees. Hence, the right move for now is to be where we are and stay alert and safe.” According to him, the Government of Nepal has requested with the governments of those countries wherever Nepalis are to give them the required security and other support. The governments there have also given their commitment for the same.
In relation to the possibility of bringing back Nepalis stranded abroad, Minister Gyawali referred to the government’s act of airlifting the Nepalis in Wuhan, China to Kathmandu in a chartered flight and quarantining them in February. But given the travel restrictions and lockdown imposed by various countries including Nepal to combat the virus, the Minister argued that it would not be wise to invite further risk to the lives of people by encouraging them for unsafe travel at this juncture of time. Secondly, the Minister added, the government acknowledges that the cases of COVID-19 reported in the country were due to lax implementation of the code of conduct and criteria set by the government for the returnees.
The Minister said that the infection spread as the foreign returnees or those with symptoms of COVID-19 did not stay in isolation upon their arrival.
Ruling out the possibility of evacuating the Nepalis abroad at the time of travel restrictions imposed by various countries to stem the outbreak of the infection, the Minister concluded that the best option left for now was to stay indoors wherever we are. “The circumstance will determine the right course of action,” he asserted. Although the people were gradually appreciating the lockdown enforced by the government since March 24 to contain the outbreak COVID-19, the Minister said, there were doubts whether it could be effective measure to curb its spread.
In response to a query about the management of 14 tonnes of medial appliances including the personal protective equipment (PPE) recently brought from China, the Minister said that that the medical appliances were in short supply in every country across the globe and the government was making every possible effort to control the pandemic with available resources.
The minister further said that the medical equipment and support materials received would be proportionally distributed to state levels. "We have laid emphasis on the safety aspects of the health workers who are in frontline in providing services to the needy people during such difficult time". From now onward we will expand the scope of COVID-19 infection tests. "I do not claim that there are no shortcomings in responding to the pandemic.
But this is not the right time to review. We have placed special attention to the safety of health workers, security personnel, migrant workers and people with disabilities. The government also has doubled the incentives to the health workers as well as made arrangement of insurance.
We are very sensitive to the possible difficulties to be faced by health workers in performing their duties", he said.
On a different note, he said that the general public and responsible political parties had trusted the incumbent government in the time of a crisis.
The daily wage earners too have also supported the government’s lockdown although they are the hardest hit section of population due to the shutdown. This is the candid evidence of citizen's trust on the government.
"However, some are trying to pursue their self-interests even during such a critical time", he said, adding some are demanding a consensus government; some are seeking resignation of ministers and some are hell bent to create doubts on the well-intended tasks of the government.
"They have to understand that the anti-graft regulatory bodies would oversee if any irregularities have occurred anywhere", he asserted, adding no action of the government would go beyond monitoring and scrutiny. But this is the time to express satisfaction for the government's prompt action to import health appliances and support in the much-needed hours, he noted.
Minister Gyawali went on saying that the government is trying its best to hand over necessary equipment to the health workers and other personnel mobilized in containing COVID-19 risks.
"We are also opting to develop some new structures in a bid to stem the virus outbreak. We were also not completely prepared to fight against the pandemic as it was with many countries around the entire world. Now we have centralized our all-out efforts and systematic plans to tackle the risks.
The government has shut the flight service and sealed its border with the enforcement of nationwide lockdown". He further said that the only way to contain the risk of the pandemic was to keep those suspected of carrying the virus in quarantines and increase the number of tests. "This is the time when we mostly require increased level of cooperation from local levels and citizens.
To this date the infection has not spread to the community and limited to the foreign returnees.
Foreign Minister Gyawali expressed confidence over the effectiveness of the several measures and steps that the government has put in place in time to check the pandemic outbreak. He said that international arrival has been stopped before this as well as entry from across the border has also been checked, adding that the government looks forward to the support from people and local level. Stating that it’s time for local levels to prove their mettle and relevance, the Foreign Minister said leaders of the society and community should coordinate in an appropriate manner.
Minister Gyawali mentioned that local levels have developed quarantine and it is the responsibility of all to come together at this time of crisis. Stating that the government has brought the equipment provided by China, he said the government was talking with other countries as well to bring in more support in this regard. Responding to query regarding the talks with India for the support, the Foreign Minister said the government has approached India for cooperation and has received assurance to send rapid response team of health workers and necessary equipment.
Responding to some concerns about the alleged failure to impose stringent health examination in the airport, Minister Gyawali said only thing that could be done in the airport was measurement of temperature. However, temperature may not rise even in seven to ten days of infection.
The danger part of the COVID-19 is the untraceable infection. He however said that the government had asked the foreign returnees to stay in quarantine or the designated place through counseling and filing of forms. But the problem has surfaced as they did not follow the government’s request. Minister Gyawali also said it was not possible to for the government alone to keep everyone coming from abroad in quarantine, which was almost 3,000 every day. So, the government had made all possible attempts to make the people aware about the risk of coronavirus but went in vain. Nevertheless, the government has taken phase-wise initiative at appropriate time and the lockdown is in full implementation.
There was no alternative to extend the lockdown for better results, added the Foreign Minister.
Minister Gywali expressed the view that preventing spread of coronavirus infection at the community level was the first priority and all citizens should play their part for the same. He stressed the need of increasing the scope of coronavirus test and test hundreds of people daily. The government has developed dedicated hospitals in centre, hub hospitals and other satellite hospitals in the States for the treatment of coronavirus infected people, he added.
Saying that the directive is not to shutdown daily essential service, the Foreign Minister said there is enough stock of food stuffs and petroleum products at present. The people have supported the lockdown and we are happy from people’s support to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection, he mentioned. Foreign Minister Gyawali said that the government would take necessary decisions to resolve problems that surface with the extension of the lockdown.
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