With daily rising coronavirus cases and prohibitory orders having already been enforced for the second time within the past 5 months, the government seems to be relying solely on the lockdown to contain Covid-19, when instead, it should be facing the problem head-on.
The previous nationwide lockdown, which began from March 24, lasted for 120 days but although there were only two cases at the start of the lockdown, the number increased to more than 17,000 cases by the time it was lifted. Had the government implemented and taken proper measures to contain the virus at the initial stages of the lockdown, the toll might not have reached such heights.
At present, more than 30,000 cases and around 150 death have been reported so far, and it is largely due to the lack of proper preparations on part of the government.
So far, the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 situation has been inadequate, to say the least. By first improperly planning and implementing the first lockdown, then hastily ending it, and then mismanaging every decision made since then, the government has continuously been disregarding health experts on what it should be doing to manage Covid-19 better.
To ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated this time around, one essential decision the government can take is to set up a committee that is led by health experts, and not politicians only.
One instance of the mismanagement by the government was the situation in the Nepal-India border.Hundreds of Nepalis,mostly migrant workers, were stuck at the border in the initial stages of the lockdown, with around 800 people stuck just in Darchula.
People had to sneak their way through fields and rivers just to make their way back home. There was a lot of social stigma around people who actually made it home and major human right violations were made by abandoning the migrant workers at the borders.
The National Human Rights Commission even released a statement urging the government to follow the guidelines set up by WHO for quarantine centers.
Lack of proper food, space, security and hygienic facilities caused quarantine centers to become breeding grounds for contamination and cases of people running away from them caused clusters and community outbreaks of corona virus. The quarantine centers themselves didn’t have health care workers present on site.
In order to do better this time around, a good example the Nepali government could look at and learn from is Vietnam, where they have managed to contain the transmission of the coronavirus, having reported a little over 1000 cases in the past 8 months.
Both Nepal and Vietnam are socialist-oriented countries and have utilized local governmental bodies to handle the crisis from the local level. Even though both countries have borders with China, limited resources and even reported the first case on the very same day, the handling of the situation was massively different.
Vietnam took very early actions restricting movement extensive contact tracing. The government was in frequent communication with the citizens to keep them informed as well as involved, which greatly helped in the containment. Vietnam has both experience and infrastructure in dealing with outbreaks.
With the overt preparedness that Vietnam showed in the initial stage, the results can be seen in the cases till date. Even though there are many factors such as Vietnam already having had experience with a virus like SARS and the Avian outbreak, and the country having a relatively low median age, the policies and actions taken is something Nepal can, and definitely should, emulate.
Furthermore, although the government is using several platforms to spread knowledge about Covid-19 and measures the citizens should take in order to mitigate the spread of the virus, without proper absorption of this knowledge by the citizens, the possibility of containment might not be possible.
Instances such as Prime Minister K. P. Oli downsizing the effect of the virus by calling it “like the flu” and top political leaders focusing on internal party conflicts rather than converging into the pandemic, might have prejudiced the citizens into underestimating the virus and its effect on the Nepali people.
Here, the citizens have as much role and importance as the government. Without the citizens knowing fully about the absolute implications of the virus, how it is transmitted and how it can be contained, lockdowns and prohibitory orders might cause an initial decrease in the Covid-19 cases in the short run but it might go back to its usual high numbers in the very near future.
Nonetheless, prohibitory orders and lockdowns should be enforced in the short run in order to control and contain the spread of the virus, but this is not a sustainable solution in the long run. While these prohibitory orders and lockdowns are enforced, the government must focus on increasing the number of tests and should enforce contact tracing.
Similar to what was done in Vietnam, contact tracing should be done until the third degree. More focus should be put into social distancing, especially when people go out for essential goods and services. The government should rely on science and facts, and should take swift actions in accordance with the advice given by public health experts.
Following these measures are the only way to beat the problem, or else our already failing health system will be completely overwhelmed by cases and may collapse altogether.
Simona Shrestha is a sub-editor at Kathmandu Pati English, covering politics, peace, conflict, security, defence and diplomacy issues. She is a student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, pursuing a major in Environment and Development Studies. She previously worked at Nest Media, where she was an editorial coordinator. Her areas of interest include the intersection between sustainability and development. You can find her on Linkedin as Simona Shrestha