Nepal is very much likely to witness devastation of a higher level than that of the second wave in the coming days, if effective steps are not taken to stem the further spread of the variants of COVID-19 in the country, warn experts
KATHMANDU, July 30: According to the Ministry of Health and Population, Nepal has so far witnessed the Delta (B.1.617.2), Alfa (B.1.1.7) and Kappa (b.1.617.1) variants of COVID-19. These variants have been listed as ‘variants of concern’ by the World Health Organization and are considered infectious and fatal for people of all age groups.
Recently, the health ministry sent 43 swab samples of people of different age groups collected from various parts of the country to India for genomic sequencing. All of these samples tested positive for the Delta Variant. Likewise, the K417N (A.Y1) mutant has also been detected in three of these samples.
Nepal detected the first variant of COVID-19 earlier in January. However, the government has done almost nothing to diagnose and tackle the virus. The government only has the data of the number of variants detected in Nepal. Due to the lack of contact tracing, the government does not know how many have been infected by these variants.
In recent days, new cases of COVID-19 have once again been rising as the government has eased the prohibitory orders enforced earlier to curb the further spread of COVID-19.
The government must take initiatives to tackle these variants and give priority to vaccines, experts say. “Our government is doing very little to tackle the new variants and it worries me,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital at Teku in the capital. “Recently, the government sent 43 swab samples to India for genomic sequencing. Our population stands in millions. We are witnessing new cases in the thousands and conducting genomic sequencing only for 43 samples. It seems like a joke to me,” he added. Whatever mutation that we are witnessing so far could just be the tip of an iceberg.
Nepal’s neighboring country India with which the country shares an open border, has already detected Beta and Gamma variants as well. It has been reported that COVID-19 vaccines developed by Astrazeneca have been seen as less effective against the Beta variant. Earlier, South Africa stopped administering the Astrazeneca vaccine against COVID-19, maintaining that the vaccine was found less effective against the Beta variant.
“The lack of tests and contact tracing has posed threats not only to Nepal but to the entire world,” said Dr Pun adding that the mutation of COVID-19 is very much likely in Nepal itself.
So far, 750,002 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 9,807 have died of the disease.
Similarly, 1,548,803 people have been completely vaccinated against COVID-19 -- which is roughly four percent of the population -- and 3,650,733 have received their first dose of the vaccine. However, Nepal has not conducted any study or research regarding the efficacy of the vaccines in Nepal. The government does not have any information so far regarding the number of people infected with the new variants in Nepal or the efficacy of the vaccines used against the fatal COVID-19 disease.