Around 22.3 per cent of the population in Nepal has so far been administered both doses of COVID- 19 vaccines, while 28.3 per cent have received the first dose. Therefore, reaching 100 per cent looks like a herculean task. The ongoing pandemic has created havoc all over the world. Countries like Nepal face the brunt of such emergencies more due to lack of both human and material resources to address them well.
As the country heads towards celebrating its biggest festival Dashain followed by Tihar, all Nepalis are wondering how to celebrated this year. Dashain celebration of 2020 was under lockdown. This year many seem to be planning to go full board and celebrate.
The traditional Dashain celebration in Nepal includes worships during the Navratri in almost every Hindu household. They visit Durga temples, giving animal sacrifices. Then from the tenth day, for five days, people visit homes of relatives who are senior to them.
“During festivals there are chances of high transmission of virus due to mass mobility, restricted availability of health services like lab facility and other investigations and medications,” says Dr Kamal Raj Thapa, with a DM from All India Institute of Medical Sciences is the Head of department, Chest and Critical Care department, Sumeru Hospital. Thapa further states that even sick patients with oxygen wanted to go home during festival and counselling them was one of the biggest challenges.
Staying home, worshipping and celebrating within each household seems to be the safest for this year, too. But the challenge seems to be the flocking to the temples and plans of many to do the house visits of senior family members to receive tika and blessings. Several family members are calling each other expressing the interest of visiting each other. It is culturally incorrect to refuse but from pandemic viewpoint refusing visiting each other may still be the best option.
“The biggest challenge is misinformation and belief about COVID-19 in the social media which demotivates people to seek timely medical attention, follow heath safety measures and get vaccination,” says Dr Nastu, clinical tropical medicine specialist. He is currently supporting government in Neglected Tropical Diseases and COVID-19 cases management and counseling home isolation patients. He advises celebrating Dashain with all safety measures such as using masks, hands washing, avoid overcrowding and unnecessary travel. He also adds that consumption of oily food, too much meat and alcohol should be avoided.
People are preparing to celebrate Dashain with full fervour this year. Although last year, most of us had stayed indoors, this year several of us have moved around for official meetings or personal travel. Gatherings have slowly started in homes, restaurants, party palaces and hotels. These sorts of activities risk people getting infected with virus. Many people are reluctant to do PCR tests because of the cost and psychological fear.
People who have taken both doses of vaccines have also been contracting the virus. Some have severe signs and have had to be hospitalised for oxygen supply and some recover at home isolation. Therefore, the relaxation that we can move around freely just because we have taken both the doses of vaccines could be risky, it is important to monitor if safety measures are well observed by all. Medical experts say that taking both doses and, even a single dose helps patients to cope with the virus.
According to PubMed Centre, the US National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine, the genomic sequence of the cognate pathogen SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) has been quickly determined but there are still many unknown aspects, including the virus origin and evolution trend, and the effectiveness of current vaccines and drugs against the mutating virus. A PubMed paper mentions that minority groups continue to suffer disproportionately from COVID-19's impact, with Blacks and Hispanics three times more likely to die from the disease than their White counterparts.
Although research data has not been available on the disaggregation of the population on who has received the vaccines in Nepal, this probably is true here too the most vulnerable may be receiving vaccines the least. Although commendable work has been done by Nepal Government in distributing vaccines in all seven provinces of the country, there are several who have not received it due to lack of access and knowledge and some because of reluctance to take the vaccines.
As the research regarding the virus and its impact together with the impact of the vaccines on people is still not fully completed, scientists and medical experts still seem to be unaware of several aspects of this pandemic.
Less than 30 per cent of Nepalis have received one dose of the vaccine, therefore, still the 70 per cent who are not vaccinated even once, could be roaming around as potential victims to catch the virus and also potential carriers. Also the 30 per cent, who are vaccinated, could be victims and carriers. While watching the news on TV channels, crowds can be seen queuing outside temples to worship. People are seen to be wearing masks but the distance of 2 meters definitely has not been maintained.
The SARS-CoV-2 is thought to be transmitted mainly by close contact with one another which is generally defined as a distance of about six feet or two metres. Thus, the concept of social distancing as an effective measure for preventing infections is definitely lacking during this Dashain. The best strategy could be to enjoy everything but with precautions. However, is it possible for all to maintain this safety?
(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights activist. firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)