The government has a plan to gradually open up the country from Covid-19 lockdown in three phases. But even in Phase I, bar education institutions and public transport, most of the country is already open for business. People have started crowding, and many have ditched their masks and hand sanitizers, as if they are now out of danger. In fact, the danger to Nepali lives and livelihoods from Covid-19 has never been greater. The number of corona-positive folks is rising exponentially, and so are related health complications. Yet most people have had enough of the lockdowns.
Around the world, wherever lockdowns have been relaxed, from the US to Germany, the Covid-19 infections, serious illnesses, and deaths have all shot up. Even China is seeing a troubling uptick in Covid-19 cases—when the country was thought to have largely gotten over the pandemic. In India, as of this writing, nearly 400,000 had corona and close to 13,000 people had died. The stream of Nepali migrant workers in India trying to return to their homeland has remained steady, and they continue to bring the virus along. Meanwhile, most of the lockdown restrictions in Nepal have been lifted.
There are now over 7,200 corona-positive cases in Nepal and at least 20 deaths. Nepali epidemiologists say this is just the tip of the iceberg; most cases remain hidden because of the paucity of Covid-19 test kits. The virus is silently spreading. Yet people are now moving around and working as if everything is hunky-dory. Confining people to their homes for months on end is never easy. And they are justifiably frustrated. Yet a lot more could have been done to mitigate corona’s impact.
The federal government has shown shocking neglect in its handling of the crisis. Corruption and mismanagement have marred its efforts to import vital test kits and protective material for health professionals. The communication, from the prime minister down, has been abysmal too. KP Oli claims, without a shred of scientific proof, that Nepalis are naturally immune to Covid-19. Many have taken him literally, to their peril. This is no joke. If complications and deaths shoot up, is the PM ready to take responsibility? And what good will admission of his wrong do when the damage is done? If the government does not correct its mistakes and cannot regain public faith over its handling of the pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis could soon spiral out of our control.