There is a long history of pandemics. Pandemics in the human history have devastated the lives of billions while impacting greatly on human culture, tradition, values and civilization. Such catastrophes brought about the paramount changes to the course of global order several times. The emergence and collapse of empires, and the fall of the old civilization and rise of the new one, were few examples that are worthy to mention.
Novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) which is said to have been originated in Wuhan, China, in early December of 2019 has been taken as another human tragedy in centuries. The virus quickly spread throughout the world, claiming millions of lives. The United States of America, the United Kingdom, India and Italy are four worst-hit countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.
The salient feature of this virus than others is: the rate of its spread. More than 30 million people are affected by this virus within 7 months of its outbreak. Many of the countries imposed lockdown to prevent and control the spread of coronavirus in this period.
Scientists around the world have already started conducting research in order to find the medical solution to overcome COVID-19. However, no tangible results have been achieved as of now. It seems strength; nature and pace of spread of the virus are stronger than the people imagine. Our failure to quell it with the advanced science and technology is obviously a matter of huge disappointment. It is said that the virus has been changing its nature, strength and pace of spread.
So, the scientists involved in this field are required to do more research to tackle such pandemic out of box. Traditional form of study is not enough to find out solution for dealing with the virus. Most of the countries have applied their best possible measures to control the spread of virus and save human lives. Commonly used preventive measures include the use of PPE, wearing mask, covering mouth and nose, maintaining social distance, and going to doctors if required, imposing lockdown in coronavirus-hit areas to stop its spread, sealing the suspected areas, arranging quarantine and isolation facilities, and other lab tests.
Implication to Nepal
Compared to other countries, Nepal has witnessed very few coronvirus deaths as of today. However, it has greatly impacted on Nepal's remittance which has remained as one of the major backbones of the country's economy.
Due to various push and pull factors, more than around 4 million Nepali nationals are employed in Gulf countries and Malaysia and most of them are unskilled and semi-skilled laborers. Nepali workers who are working in the Gulf or Malaysia are always in vulnerable conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic has further put their life at risk.
Repatriation of Nepali nationals via chartered flights has also been a challenging job for the government. At the same time, those Nepalis who were brought back home via chartered flights from various countries also did not feel secure.
Challenges and Opportunities
We can divide challenges and opportunities that have emerged from the coronavirus into two parts:
In Nepali context
The foremost challenge for the government of Nepal is to ensure the safety of the lives of its people. Those who are stranded in foreign countries should be brought back home safely. By mobilizing the Nepali diplomatic missions abroad, the government needs to repatriate stranded Nepalis abroad.
The government enforced various measures to curb the spread of coronavirus since March 24 this year. Nationwide lockdown was enforced, international borders were closed, international flights were halted and social distance was maintained as part of the measures to prevent and stop the coronavirus transmission. The government also facilitated the repatriation of Nepalis from abroad.
Moreover, it has set up isolation centers and quarantine facilities. In this period, the government conducted RDT and PCR tests of tens of thousands of people.
As professor Sujan Babu Maarhatta stated in his recent article entitled "Tackling COVID-19 in Nepal: Opportunities and Challenges", timely action, testing, tracing, tracking, treating and togetherness are recommended as the most effective strategies in preventing this pandemic. However, the government has faced criticisms for not taking initiatives timely.
Moreover, questions have been raised in terms of accommodation facilities; social distancing and sanitization management in some quarantine facilities. Likewise, suspected COVID-19 patients have not undergone required tests. In fact, Nepal's coronvirus cases are mostly imported. We can learn from the bitter experience of the United States in terms of coronavirus crisis handling.
The government has yet another challenge, which is growing rate of unemployment. Many youths who recently came back home from abroad are seeking job opportunities. Nepali students who were studying abroad also came back home. They can rejoin their studies in near future. But, it could be difficult for the migrant Nepali workers who came back home from abroad.
The pandemic has brought not only the challenges but opportunities as well. It is the best time for the government to break the shackle of crony capitalism that has been the major threat to the sustainability of our economy.
Some of the major works that the government should do to convert this challenge into opportunities: give them the required vocational training; introduce modern and professional agriculture and animal husbandry training and farming system; provide loan or subsidies to them to start and expand their profession; set up new factories; use their skills and experiences they earned in foreign land in relevant areas and promote the culture in the society to respect the work irrespective of its nature. Tourism and other service sectors have huge potential in Nepal. Once the pandemic is over, tourism industry is expected to rise again. The government has expedited the construction of international airports which will help boost the country's tourism.
In global context
As mentioned above, COVID-19 has greatly impacted the human lives in various parts of the world including South Asia, United States and European countries. Most of the air traffics around the world have come to a halt. The movement of the people is highly restricted owing to the coronavirus transmission. The global manufacturing and service sectors as well as industrial sectors are closed. As a result, millions of people have lost their jobs. Educational institutions are closed, affecting the academic activities of the students.
The pandemic is likely to cause further impact in the days ahead. It is not easy to predict or prepare for the strength, scope and nature of pandemic even though we are in advanced and highly sophisticated scientific world. Therefore, the scientists involving in research should focus their research to tackle such abnormal situation.
Coronavirus has been seen as a major setback to the globalization. Social or official gatherings are highly restricted. As a result, people are using virtual platforms to communicate their social, economic and political activities.
However, coronavirus has also given a chance to the people to express solidarity in the time of crisis. The most important thing is how the world will be once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. International relations observers are also closely following the world politics and impact of COVID-19 on the socio-economic system. The major question is: Will the world order remain same or will there be fundamental changes to the balance of power among the leading countries in world politics?