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EDITORIAL: Community transmission in Nepal

EDITORIAL: Community transmission in Nepal

Community-level transmission of Covid-19 is now likely in all major population clusters of Nepal. Biratnagar and Birgunj, the country’s fourth and fifth most populous cities, have re-imposed near complete lockdowns. Syangja district of Gandaki province has also witnessed a troubling spurt in infections. On July 28, Kathmandu valley reported 53 new cases, the highest single-day jump to date. Even as the corona menace grows, the number of tests has decreased, from nearly 10,000 a day a month ago to under 4,000 a day today. The federal government says it is planning a significant ramp-up in testing. People are justifiably skeptical. 

Why was testing curtailed at a time India, which shares an open border with Nepal, was breaking records in its daily corona-positive and death tallies? The reduction in testing seems intended to keep a lid on the number of detected corona-positives, reducing criticism of the government and preventing the public from panicking. This is warped logic. When the media raised questions about the questionable handling of the pandemic, Health Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal accused government critics, who were incapable of seeing its good works, of being blinded by cataract.

Meanwhile, the infighting in the ruling Nepal Communist Party is taking the attention away from the corona crisis. KP Oli’s in-party critics are on the mark when they accuse the prime minister of bungling the corona response, among its other signature governance failures. They want Oli to step down from both the posts. But the late-sexagenarian is in no mood to bow out easily. Nor are his party colleagues willing to give up their dogged stand to unseat the prime minister. Oli is rightly faulted for his cavalier handing of the corona crisis. But were they not so focused on their own political calculations, Oli’s party colleagues could have actually forced the prime minister to come clean on his coronavirus mishandling—something the weak opposition parties have not been able to do.

The government messaging when it announced the lifting of the nationwide lockdown on July 21 was poor too. It failed to convey the gravity of the risks people still face. In fact, it increasingly looks like the government lifted the lockdown to honor a Supreme Court ruling on tax collection rather than to ease public suffering. The country has been put on a dangerous corona course. A wrong turn here or there could lead to a catastrophic accident.