The People’s Health Movement Nepal launched a campaign against COVID-19 with a slogan of celebrating the festivals of this year more from an emotional perspective rather than physical connection. This way, the campaign wanted to inspire the civilians to take responsibility of keeping safe from being infected. “It is very difficult to make people understand and take individual responsibility of keeping themselves safe and others too,” says Dr. Sharad Onta, a public health expert, and one of the key leaders of the People’s Health Movement Nepal. Dr. Onta informed that after seeing that the shopping activities were increasing as the festival season was nearing, the campaign collaborated with departmental stores, before Dashain, to put in place safety measures and assist the shoppers to abide by them. However, he mentioned that very few, if any stores or shoppers, followed them fully. Infections on rise As of writing this article, the status of the COVID19 pandemic in Nepal included 222,288 confirmed cases and 1,337 deaths. The number of people recovered from the virus disease stood at 202,067. Globally, there were 59,070,488 COVID-19 cases and 1,394,694 deaths while 37, 691,380 persons recovered from the disease. Reflecting on the fact that in March, there were no COVID-19 infections in Nepal, the above data is indeed alarming particularly as the country’s capacity to cope with more infections are depleting day by day. Many people are not coming for testing. It is also a fact that there are several people who could be infected and do not show the symptoms. This indicates that there may be far more infections than has been reported. I had taken a drive in the car with my mother with full safety measures in place and drove her past Kalikasthan, Bhadrakali, Mahankal, Ranipokhari past the beautiful temple in the middle, Naxal Bhagwati, Maitidevi and back to Baneshwor, as the Navaratri commenced. The plan was to uplift her spirits and at least get her to see a few of the Devi temples she used to visit during normal Navaratri days. Her visit was safe as we wore masks, did not stop anywhere, and kept all the windows closed. We just did a slow drive so that she could pay respects to gods and goddesses by chanting mantras softly. It gave me a peace of mind too. However, what I saw while driving was a bit concerning. Nepal Government took restrictive measures, and the People’s Health Movement too was disseminating messages of caution. But the general people seem to be either unaware or not bothered about such safety protocols. Crowds of people, many without masks and the required social distancing, were moving along the streets and the temple areas. There were places where people were worshipping inside and in some cases from outside. Shops and restaurants had people carrying several bags of shopping and snacking too. Again, there was a mixture of masked and unmasked groups. Majority had masks, but, below the chin rather than over the nose! There has been a common scenario of people walking on streets having masks hanging below their chins. Nose and mouth section is left open. This allows the virus to have a free and safe entry and exit from the oral and nasal path that they love. I often encounter people who say, “If we have a strong willpower and faith in God, the virus cannot do anything”. A priest mentioned that if we had faith, nothing would happen to us. Statements like these are often heard but they also ridicule the fact that they are hinting that all the infected people and the deaths caused by COVID-19 were faithless people. This is absolutely false. Now, almost every day, I hear of people, including those who are religious, spiritual and full of faith, getting infected with the virus. All the family members of a friend, including her octogenarian parents, were infected with the pandemic. She had to run around to make sure that her parents get recovered. The struggle she had includes rushing to hospitals in Banepa and all around the Kathmandu Valley in search of beds. After this wasn’t possible, she took a house service that was available but very expensive. Unfortunately, here too when the attendants were required to visit and take care of her parents they had to wait until the attendants finished their rounds elsewhere before visiting her parents’ home. There are several households now where the entire families are infected and no one to cook food. Friends and relatives are helping where possible. A friend’s sister recently called me to say, “Didi, please don’t take this pandemic lightly. I just lost my husband to it. He had the symptoms and was taken to hospital. After that, I couldn’t meet him.”
Painful situation I wept with her too and consoled her as I couldn’t visit her personally. My next door neighbour passed away due to heart attack but I haven’t been able to go inside his house as his wife is COVID-19 positive and living in isolation. When I think of her, I cannot imagine the pain and shock she must be in. Firstly, to cope with the fact that she herself is infected, then to come to terms with the reality that her beloved husband who was hale and hearty with no infections or ailments of any sort passed away due to heart attack and she couldn’t participate in his last rituals. Her son and daughter-in-law are braving the situation and have matured overnight to take charge of the household and get their mother back to normal health and mind frame. I talk to them over the fence. This is the situation all over the world now. It is for each one of us to make sure we are safe and we do not infect others. Stay safe!
(Namrata Sharma is a senior journalist and women rights advocate and can be reached at email@example.com Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)