Last week, Nepal made headlines in the international media as the daily cases of COVID-19 surged to 9,023 cases on Friday, 7th of May 2021 — the highest daily count thus far. Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli appeared on the CNN and boldly claimed that the situation was under control. He even tried to paint a rosy picture sharing that Nepal’s recovery rate stood at 68.6%, and mortality rate at 0.95%. Until this point, 3579 people have lost their lives to the pandemic in Nepal. He tried to highlight the “serious measures” that were being taken by the government in terms of supplying oxygen, ICU beds, ambulances and other facilities in the city areas as these were more prone to the spread of the virus. The PM also had a jab at the citizens, blaming them and their negligence for the spread of the virus. Finally, he claimed that the pandemic was a social issue, and not a political one, and therefore, it should not be used as a pretext to criticize the government.
If we look back, we’ll find ample examples of how our political leaders, including the PM himself, are to blame for much of this new spread, unlike his claims. In what was an utter show of strength, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) faction led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli held mass gatherings across the country throughout the month of February. They expected 200,000 people in every gathering. His very own fellow party comrades were also doing just the same about the same time, against the PM’s show. In doing so, the leaders completely disregarded any lessons from the first wave for their petty powerplay, and their followers followed. Many other functions that caused mass gatherings were also hosted by the leaders — without a second thought. All in all, leaders failed to lead. In fact, they misled.
The interview itself was a big platform for the PM to rise above domestic politics and present Nepal’s dire situation to the world and make a call for action. Unfortunately for Nepal, the PM chose to preserve his ego over seeking assistance for the Nepali people.
When most of the countries were disconnecting themselves from India in a bid to limit the spread of the new strain, Nepal was continuing to operate flights to Delhi. Open borders and tricky bilateral ties make it difficult for Nepal to separate itself from India. But this was a straightforward case of being accountable towards its citizens, and Nepali leaders seemed to be more accountable elsewhere. In the last week of April, the US government pledged to share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with twenty countries. Sadly, Nepal was not on the recipients’ list. These are instances of failure of our leadership and diplomacy.
On Tuesday the 11th (of May), Nepal recorded its highest mortality with 225 deaths. Nepal recorded a total of 4,466 deaths by 14th of May. There are still shortages of oxygen and ICU beds. Supplies are being captured by the connected ones while ordinary citizens are left at the mercy of fate. Hospitals are being forced to turn their back on patients due to inability to cater to any more patients. Clearly, the situation is out of control.
Having said this, it is never too late to mend the situation. COVID-19 is going to be a long fight. A better way to bring the situation under control could have been to coordinate with the private sector whether it be in the acquisition of vaccines or developing a better infrastructure for the people infected with the virus. Mass vaccination has shown tremendous results in controlling the spread of the virus. Mass vaccination in the US, UK, Israel, etc. has shown an extraordinary decrease in the COVID cases and the countries are on the road for economic recovery. So, Nepal should work closely with the private sector to procure the vaccines.
Nepali leadership clearly lacks coordination with health and logistics experts. The PM should start engaging with these experts on a daily basis and start updating the public daily on what his team did today, what they are doing tomorrow, what challenges are being seen, how they are going to go about resolving those, and make appeals for help if resolution is beyond his means.
We talk of China and praise how it constructed an instant hospital in Wuhan under two weeks during the first wave. In fact, Nepal also constructed instant hospitals during the 2015 earthquake. So, we must learn from China and our own past to build such instant facilities for better response.