Confusion reigns supreme as people debate whether to celebrate the upcoming Dashain amid a raging corona pandemic. The number of daily reported cases is steadily climbing, with a record 4,364 cases reported on Oct 8. It’s hard to find a person whose close friend or relative has not been infected, suggesting widespread prevalence of Covid-19, over and beyond official numbers. Hospital ICUs are chock-a-block with covid-positive patients, and they are urging all but critical patients to self-isolate. The biggest Hindu festival just over a week away, people are looking forward to it with foreboding. Putting tika while clad in a mask and at a safe distance from your nearest ones isn’t exactly the Dashain spirit.
Many are already resigned to their fate, as they think it is only a matter of time before they too have the virus—if they don’t already. They thus shun masks and mingle freely. Youths are particularly blasé. The problem is that we know little about the virus nearly a year since its first appearance in China. What little findings there have been in fact suggest long-term health effects even among the youth. This follows an old pattern. During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic too, the first wave was relatively mild and mostly affected the infirm and elderly. But soon the virus had morphed and came to hit the youth the hardest. There is a risk of a new and more deadly spurt of the virus this winter.
Thankfully, testing has increased, with nearly 20,000 people now being tested daily—one reason for the higher number of infections. Yet even this is inadequate. If the country is to have any hope of controlling the spread of the virus and preventing its worst consequences, around 100,000 will have to be tested (or retested) every day. Another good news is that self-testing is increasing and those who have discovered on their own are isolating in their homes. Doctors are available for consultations over the phone. Folks are also deriving some comfort by sharing their stories on social media. It’s becoming clear that Nepal will have to work out its own formula to deal with this scourge. But will that be enough?