Overcoming Omicron

Published On: January 12, 2022 07:15 PM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

The increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the country over the past few days shows that the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has already hit Nepal. While Nepal recorded 3,075 new cases on Wednesday, the country witnessed 2,444 new cases on Tuesday. If we look at the number of new cases in the past few days, it is clear that the number is likely to increase manifolds in the next few weeks. As for an instance, Nepal recorded 326 cases on January 4 but the number climbed to 435 the following day. The number of new cases was already 540 on January 6 and 968 on January 7 before jumping to 1167 on January 9. The three district administration offices (DAOs) in the Kathmandu Valley and elsewhere have already announced a slew of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. Among other things, academic institutions have been advised to run virtual classes and large gatherings have been prohibited. Cross-border movement has also been tightened. These proactive decisions are certainly positive steps taken by the government. But it is already evident that these measures alone are not going to help us tackle the third wave of COVID-19 marked by the presence of a new variant called the Omicron.

COVID-19 is here to stay for sometime. Learning to live with it looks the only pragmatic way forward. The immediate thing that the government must do is further expand the scope of COVID-19 vaccination. As per the data released by the Ministry of Health and Population, only about 38 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, while about 50 percent have received only the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines. Even if we take into consideration the population that lives outside the country and the children below 12 years of age who are not eligible for the COVID-19 shots yet, it is clear that a large number of people are yet to be fully vaccinated. In order to ensure that everyone eligible receives vaccines, the government has to first make necessary arrangements to administer vaccines at the level of community and schools. Elected officials of the local governments could best help to educate people about the importance of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure that everyone in the community is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This will help avoid large crowds of people at the government hospitals administering the vaccines and help the people to avail vaccines without hassles.

The government has lately introduced a system to fill online forms and those unable to fill these forms are in most cases denied vaccines at hospitals that administer the COVID-19 vaccines. This has proved not only cumbersome for people who do not have access to the internet and computers but also dissuading large numbers of people from receiving vaccines. As things stand, the online form does not seem to have much utility. Those filling up details of their preferred vaccines are largely denied their preferred vaccines. And, this does not seem to have helped to manage crowds in hospitals either. If it is meant to keep records of those receiving the vaccines, the government can deploy a few more staffers to make things easier for the ordinary people. Initially, the government had made an arrangement to issue vaccination cards that would mention the date and type of vaccines received to all recipients. The same system can be replicated given the fact that a large majority of people are not IT-literate and filling online application forms is not an easy task for them. It is high time that the government simplified the procedures to receive the vaccines. It is also equally necessary on the part of the government to procure additional vaccines including those for children aged 12 to 18 years and raise public awareness about the importance of vaccination to overcome the pandemic. 

As Finance Minister Janardan Sharma recently said, the country's economy is so volatile that it cannot afford to enforce a nationwide lockdown as it did before. Saving the lives of people is important. A large majority of people are already passing through a lot of hardships as a result of the lockdown enforced by the government last year. Any decision of the government to enforce a lockdown again is likely to push a large number of people back to abject poverty, making them unable to meet even their basic needs. Thus, the only pragmatic way left for the government is to take necessary measures to contain further spread of COVID-19 and enforce lockdown, if needed, in pocket areas where a large number of COVID-19 cases are detected. In all the measures the government may choose to take, the livelihood of people must be considered. As things stand now, it is clear that the number of COVID-19 cases will increase at an alarming rate in the next few weeks. In order to avoid things getting worse and that may even force the government to impose a lockdown, it is important on the part of the government to start finding alternative measures early on. Thus, it is high time the government immediately worked to further expand the scope of COVID-19 vaccines, making it easily accessible to all people.

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