Multiple community-level transmissions of Covid-19 virus in Nepal are now a real possibility. With the nationwide lockdown all but lifted and most carriers of the virus showing no symptoms, epidemiologists fear the worst. Demanding more government accountability and reliable and widespread testing, three ‘Enough is Enough’ campaigners even sat on a fast-unto-death, which they ended on June 7 after an agreement with the government. But based on its track record so far, the government will struggle to follow through on its commitments.
If things were not bad enough, the ill-timed power games in the ruling Nepal Communist Party could make them worse. The country could have done without this distraction. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the pandemic at this point is a shortage of reliable testing. Recent studies suggest the virus may be airborne, and if so, a stricter lockdown is in order. Yet people are fed up with the idea of locking themselves up in their homes for months on end while the government cannot do even the bare minimum to widen the scope of testing. Many people are venturing out without masks, have ditched hand sanitizers, and are visiting restaurants and malls. Others have given up all preventive measures as they think they are destined to get the virus. Accompanying this is the belief that they will not be among the tiny minority of those infected who show serious complications.
Examples from abroad suggest caution. The countries that initially witnessed few cases have seen infections suddenly shoot up; the same with those that eased their lockdowns prematurely. The WHO continues to warn that Nepal remains in grave danger. As the number of asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19 increases, so does the risk of the elderly and others with compromised immune systems getting serious complications.
As we have repeatedly noted in this space, the government has done a poor job of taking people into confidence. They trust it with little these days. And when there is no trust, people are also unlikely to heed official advice on masks and social distancing. With so much about the virus still unknown, the best strategy is to minimize its spread. People should not be lulled into a false sense of security that just because they don’t see it it’s not there. Or that it’s innocuous enough not to affect them too much.