Nepal recorded its largest single-day spike in COVID-19 infections with 83 new cases on Tuesday. The persistent drumbeat of positive tests in recent days has created widespread fears in the country. Nepal’s COVID-19 cases have climbed to 217 as of this writing and the daily coronavirus infection count is surging. As testing quickly ramped up, more coronavirus cases were being reported every day in Nepal.
The government of Nepal implemented a lockdown starting on March 24 to curb the spread of COVID-19. The effect of lockdown has been a significant exodus of people across the country. Many Nepalis have been stranded at the border. With no jobs or pay, the migrants were desperate; many of them entered Nepal using informal channels. Some desperate migrant workers even swam large rivers to enter the country. If they had entered through formal channels, quarantined, and been cared for by the authorities, perhaps then the coronavirus cases wouldn’t have spiked so much.
Many countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France have taken their citizens back home, but Nepal has refused to allow its own citizens to enter.
Nepal also faces a surge in cases as the government recently partly lifted restrictions. Vehicular moments were allowed by implementing a time card system. Many people traveled from one district to another using a COVID-19 pass and this also may be one of the causes of a significant rise in coronavirus cases in different parts of the Himalayan nation.
In addition, Nepal has performed more rapid diagnostic tests than Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, which is also one of the causes of the surge in cases. Research suggests that a rapid diagnostic test, which only tests antibodies in the blood, may not be highly reliable.
Even rich countries that are struggling hard to curb the spread of this deadly virus have struggled. As this virus continues to surge in Nepal, the cataclysm it brings will engulf the health and livelihoods of many people. The healthcare system in Nepal is already weak in comparison to those of Western countries. The government should implement more strict measures to prevent the worst before it’s too late. It should enforce a strict lockdown and intensify testing and tracing efforts.
Amid such a reality, Nepal needs a good strategy to see itself through the next year or more. For now, as caseloads are surging, the country should continue to strictly implement its lockdown while carrying out intensive testing and tracing.
The best strategy can be proactively striking a fine balance between a resumption in economic activity while maintaining the reproductive number (Ro) of this virus below one. Nepal needs a good national strategy to keep this pandemic under control. It needs to suppress and lift the restrictions depending on its means and tolerance for disruption in ways that can keep this pandemic under control.
The government of Nepal can check the state of the pandemic, act promptly on evidence, and tune its interventions as needed.
Brabim Karki is an author and businessman living in Nepal. He owns the Mero Tribune and has written two books. He writes opinion editorials in different newspapers in Nepal.