With the head of the government out of the picture because of his poor health, the lapses we see in the country’s response to the snowballing Covid-19 crisis were perhaps to be expected. But they were not inevitable. The convalescing Prime Minister KP Oli would have done his country a world of good had he temporarily transferred executive powers to someone else. He didn’t. This resulted in chaos down the chain of command. Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel was tasked with leading the government coronavirus response. But most of his instructions seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Not that other top government officials have exactly covered themselves in glory either.
In a shocking development, the corona test kits and protective equipment imported from China are reportedly of questionable quality. But this isn’t China’s fault necessarily. It was Nepal that ordered these untested kits; China simply delivered them. The only logical way Nepalis make sense of this is to assume that at least some people made a lot of illegal money in this transaction. There also seems to be zero coordination between the three tiers of the government in dealing with the impending coronavirus epidemic. Money is being doled out right and left, with zero accountability.
Then there are the Nepali citizens who have been prevented from entering their homeland. Under international law, the country cannot bar its own citizens from coming. But short of reliable quarantine facilities and testing kits, the state also fears its incoming citizens might carry the dreaded coronavirus. To be fair, any government would have had a tough time managing movement through the open border during a crisis like this. Yet the amount of confusion and helplessness on display was unwarranted. Again, there does not seem to be a clear chain of command running from the center down to the grassroots.
Countries around the world have struggled with the corona epidemic, even those who were supposedly well equipped to deal with it. But one unmistakable lesson is that the most effective response involves close cooperation between different tiers of government and active participation of the private sector. There is also someone in charge of the whole process. Establishing a clear chain of command and constantly communicating the government intent and plans is thus vital. People here are already dying from undiagnosed illnesses. Daily essentials are in short supply. Thousands of Nepalis untested for corona are lined up at the border, ready to enter. Time is of essence.