KATHMANDU, April 4: With the sudden rise in COVID-19 cases in India, the number of infections has also been rising in Nepal since the last two weeks.
The number of cases has surged by almost 50 cases every day since the last two weeks, the data maintained by the Ministry of Health and Population shows.
The country saw less than 100 cases before the cases started to increase in India, which shares open borders with Nepal. Nepal now has more than 150 cases every day.
Even though the cases are rising and the second wave of transmission is already predicted, the earlier decisions made by the government to not provide free testing for all, and stop contact tracing will make the situation worse, say experts.
On Wednesday, a total of 162 cases were recorded across the country, a sudden rise in the numbers reported by the Health Ministry in the previous weeks.
“Even the government has already predicted the second wave of COVID-19 transmission, but its earlier decisions to stop free testing and contact tracing are only making the country vulnerable to the virus,” said Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Shukraraaj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital.
In October last year, the government decided to stop free tests and treatment for all. The government said that it would provide free testing to some people, including health workers, security officials, senior citizens.
The number of people going to the southern neighbor for employment is huge. “People are coming to Nepal in a huge number. The government needs to learn from the past experience and tighten cross-border movements. And after people enter Nepal, the government should make it mandatory to follow prescribed health protocol,” he said.
“The government needs to start testing people for free, and it should also start contact tracing. Otherwise the consequence will be bad,” he said, adding that the number of cases have started to rise. “Even during the first wave of infection last year, the number of cases were increasing slowly till 200 cases a day. But then the cases surged to 5,000 in just a few months,” said Pun.
“This virus can only be controlled by testing, tracing and isolation. And if the government gives up on this concept, the government will have a hard time later on,” he said, adding the number of cases multiplies quickly.
In view of rising cases, the government has urged chief district officers (CDOs) across the country to restrict all kinds of mass gatherings. But people are still gathering in a huge number in major markets, without wearing face masks and without following health safety protocols.
According to a senior official at the Ministry of Health and Population, the government doesn’t have plans to resume free testing and contact tracing. “Even though the cases are rising, the government has not mulled over resuming free testing and contact tracing. The government doesn’t seem to have learned lessons from the first wave of infection in Nepal,” said the official, adding that the only way to control the pandemic is by testing, tracing and isolating. The official further added that there will be a landslide of cases in Nepal if the government doesn’t learn from the previous wave of COVID-19 infections.
As the government has also halted the vaccination drive with the shortage of vaccines, experts say controlling the pandemic should be taken seriously. “The increase in the number of cases in Nepal is not because of a surge in cases in India. If that was the case then Terai areas would have seen an increase in the number of cases The cases are increasing rapidly in Kathmandu. So the government needs to start free antigen testing at community levels,” said Sameer Mani Dixit, a public health expert.
He further added that conducting free antigen testing at community levels will help the government analyze the COVID-19 situation. “The government needs to react to the second wave of pandemic before it's too late,” he said, adding that the government should import COVID-19 vaccines soon.