The author is a founding board member of Nepal Policy Institute, an independent non-political international think tank, and a former staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The government of Nepal should declare ‘People’s War’ on COVID-19 for three months by invoking an emergency provision of the constitution
Supreme Court of Nepal has delivered a landmark verdict reconfirming the protection of Nepali citizens wherever they are in times of pandemic. This comes at times of rising corruption in government involving the procurement of life-saving personal protection equipment urgently needed for the protection of frontline health workers. Transferring procurement responsibility to Nepal Army does not resolve the crises which emerged from governance failures. This action only reflects the government’s move to deflect public attention and scrutiny away from government inefficiency.
However, there still is time for preparation of emergency preparedness, through a proper organizational structure and by establishing procedures in coping with impacts of the pandemic. News media are reporting the gradual spread of coronavirus in several parts of India and thousands of Nepali migrant workers are fleeing home for safety in Nepal. This is just natural because one wants to be in close proximity with members of the family during the time of unprecedented crisis.
Countries around the world are also grappling with the spread of this pandemic and taking in country prevention and control procedures like city lockdowns, enhanced community quarantine combined with non-pharmaceutical measures starting with early identification, testing, tracking and isolating Person Under Investigation (PUI) and Person Under Monitoring (PUM) as part of preventative measures.
The disease has affected the rich and the poor everywhere dramatically shaking health infrastructures and early emergency preparedness. The global pandemic is likely to lead to a collapse of the current liberal world economic order. Countries like Nepal will be affected worst. Thus the government of Nepal should forthwith invoke constitutional emergency power and declare this situation as a war against pandemic for mitigating impacts of this national calamity and adopt required preventive and control procedures, including long-term measures through a technical Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) structure to manage the crises.
Priority should be given to three practical Ts (testing, tracking, and treating) as was done by South Korea and China. Nepal could explore adapting the local use of a mobile application ‘trace together’ that Singapore has used. We must learn from experiences of other countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, and Japan and declare a national emergency to launch effective control and prevention measures before a pandemic strikes the nation with a surprise attack.
This is no time for complacency. COVID-19 has the potentials of unleashing massive public health havoc resulting in loss of human lives, eroding quality of living and collapse of the economy. In this situation, Nepal should consider the following measures. First, declare an emergency by invoking the constitutional provision and declare ‘People’s War’ on COVID-19 for three months.
During the time, the government will have to work on these areas: Set up a lean technical Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) comprising, with a maximum of nine members, one representative each from Department of Health, Home Affairs, Supply, Finance, Nepal Army, Nepal Police, including representatives from Medical Council and one representative from the WHO. The IATF should monitor the situation on 24/7 basis. Take decisions on the recommendations made by the IATF, when necessary.
Entrust Nepal Army and Nepal Police to stage field operations management at the provinces and essential operations logistics at all border crossings with special care for returning migrant Nepalis as instructed by the Supreme Court. Request China, Korea, and Singapore to provide PPE sets urgently needed for use by frontline health workers and hospital staff.
Delegate and assign procurement responsibility to the competent procurement department of the government office with special powers for processing and expediency under the supervision of IATF. Hire required temporary manpower as health workers, from different field locations, and impart relevant training before the pandemic moves to the next level. Request Singapore for securing mobile application (trace together) for tracing that would allow tagging/monitoring of cases, including isolated cases and those in self-quarantine.
Prepare for extending the lockdown period to six weeks and arrange adequate stockpiles and provide food to those who may lose earnings during the lockdown period. This should be assigned to city mayors and local government units but activities should be monitored by IATF. Take possession of hotels and schools for hosting and isolating cases. Produce large quantities of face masks locally for public distribution. Restrict the non-essential movement of people. City mayors and local government should issue travel passes, one or two per household, allowing access to established places of groceries and designated pharmacies.
Seek, urgently, direct assistance, including material, technical and logistics support, from China, Korea, and Singapore. Arrange cash grants to the poor and marginalized and disadvantaged groups, persons with disabilities and senior citizens to cover their basic minimum needs. Assist financially Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) who are affected by business closures. Consider an interest-free long-term business loan to MSME. Monitor the general living conditions of elderly persons, particularly those above 65 and ensure their well-being and health. Provide logistics support to city mayors and local government units through Nepal Police, where needed, and issue home quarantine guidelines and organize counseling services on adaptability targeted to vulnerable families and individuals, and people under self-quarantine. Provide emergency cash assistance, through city mayors and local government units, to meet the basic needs of laid-off workers. Assist and support migrant workers’ return to Nepal and enforce strict social and physical
The measures suggested above are a few steps the government can forthwith implement. This is a national emergency and it calls for emergency response. Extraordinary times require extraordinary courage and effort.