Friday, 7 May, 2021
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OPINION

Nation Battling Raging Pandemic



Narayan Upadhyay

Nepal is now fighting a tenacious battle against the raging coronavirus pandemic. An increasing number of patients having pandemic symptoms have overwhelmed the treatment and medical care capacity, compelling the Health Ministry officials to declare that the government health facilities cannot provide adequate beds and treatment to the needy patients if the nation continues to witness an exponential growth in the virus infection. The second wave of the pandemic that appeared with the new strain of the coronavirus, also known as the UK variant, has presented a greater risk to citizens. Ever since the second wave arrived here, the chart of the death figures and infections has kept on rising.
In recent times, the single-day infection rate has crossed over 7,000 lately. This is about 40 per cent of all suspected (around 16,500 persons) scanned for the virus. Also, the single-day death toll has passed beyond 30 persons on certain days. More distressing is the fact that this time around many youths and children below 11 have contracted the illness. The latest figures have likewise revealed that the nation has over 45,000 active infection cases.

Prohibitory order
The current spike has rendered Nepal into a nation with the highest cases of infection in the world at present. As the situation worsened, the authorities had no option but to enforce new restrictions and prohibitory orders in several parts to disrupt the chain of the highly transmissible variant of the contagion. Despite the virus rearing its ugly head again, our authorities showed lassitude to respond to the rapid coronavirus upsurge. Surprisingly, they allowed many people to enter the Nepali side from India that has lately been devastated by the pandemic's second wave. The infection level in India has touched over 300,000 and a death toll of around 3000 persons per day.
A year ago, when COVID-19 was first detected, the health authority had promptly set up many quarantine and holding centres in the areas lying next to the Indian border. Incoming Nepalis were put to these quarantines before they headed to their homes. However, this time around, they failed to act in time, thus letting the infected people reach their hometowns, causing higher transmission of the dreaded ailment. The Nepali health authority failed to screen the people coming to Nepal from India and other nations by air. Many countries have banned flights to and from India. Many Indians, however, discovered it easy to come here to fly to other countries and are planning fly abroad from Kathmandu. They are currently staying in the hotels of the tourist hub of Thamel.
According to some reports, the massive infection cases have sent India's health system on the brink, causing more deaths every passing day. Shortages of oxygen, medicines and health workers have hit India hard and led to the deaths of patients who could otherwise have been saved. Many Indian cities have witnessed a dearth of cremation areas forcing relatives to cremate their loved ones in parks or leave the dead in hospital morgues or streets without performing last rites. 
Earlier, India has done a miraculous job by lowering down the infection and death toll, which has earned worldwide praise for the nation of 1.3 billion people. The Indian government had sung paean to the country's enviable performance in containing the virus spread. However, it could not emulate the same performance when the pandemic’s second wave hit it like a tsunami. According to health professionals, the Indian authorities committed a grave mistake by granting the biggest religious congregation, the Kumbh fair, to take place before allowing thousands of individuals to assemble in the biggest cricket stadium to watch the India-England cricket matches. 
The Indian authorities not only held the state-level elections but allowed hundreds of leaders and thousands of voters to take part in election rallies and meetings. The Indian authority is now paying the price of the follies it committed. The concerned bodies in our country too have grown casual when it came to curbing the illness. In Nepal too, political parties organised rallies, and the authorities allowed religious jatras and festivals to be held just before the fresh coronavirus surge struck the country.
Nepal is at the receiving end of the pathogen spread owing to the sloppiness committed by our authorities, who should have gone on a high alert soon after seeing deterioration in India. Since we have a long porous border with our southern neighbour, our authorities should have acted responsibly so that the second wave would not have threatened our lives and overwhelmed our health facilities. Although naysayers have predicted bleak days for Nepal, several experts, however, maintain that despite all the adversities, the situation has not yet spiralled out of control. The government and authorities in districts have already imposed restrictive orders to break the virus spread chain besides asking the people to follow safety protocols guidelines.
Since hospitals and health workers are the places that provide required treatment to the patients with serious symptoms, our health facilities, especially the government-run health institutions, must be replenished with required beds, equipment, medicines and an easy flow of oxygen. The health experts must give priority to tracing, testing and treatment of the people suspected of or infected with the illness. 
Immunisation
It is high time the government procured as many coronavirus vaccines as it could to immunise a maximum number of citizens. Several tests have demonstrated almost all coronavirus jabs are efficient in saving the lives of people. A person who has received the required doses of vaccines does not fall seriously ill or die of the pandemic. At present, it is quite hard to secure vaccines because all nations are in a race to produce or get vaccines for their people. However, our government can seek the help of the World Health Organisation and other donor agencies to ensure that it would receive vaccines. Many vaccine producers are willing to sell their products to our government or private entrepreneurs.
Our authorities should also mobilise private entrepreneurs to get the vaccines for the Nepalis who are willing to pay for the shots. The idea behind getting vaccines at any cost is - the government must inoculate as many Nepalis as it can so that coronavirus fatality could be avoided. Rapid immunisation has other benefits too. This can be instrumental in bringing life to normalcy and our economy back to its feet quickly with the reopening of businesses and industries. Our authority would do well if it emulates our northern neighbour China and a few other nations that effectively implemented precautionary steps, boosted their health system and then inoculated a higher number of their people which enabled them to bring lives to normal condition.

(Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal. nara.upadhyay@gmail.com)