Nepal has so far failed to test new COVID-19 variants

Published On: April 4, 2021 12:22 PM NPT By: BP Aryal

KATHMANDU, April 4:  The government has not been working to diagnose and tackle the new variants of COVID-19 though the number of COVID-19 infections is increasing in the recent weeks.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), the first three cases of a new UK variant of COVID-19 was found in Nepal on January 18. 

However, the government has not taken initiatives to test the new variants and in prevention and treatment, say experts. “We have not seen the government’s efforts to test new variants of COVID-19 in Nepal,” said Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Shukraraaj Tropical & Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku. “Even the infection and death rates are yet to be analyzed to see the trends of new COVID-19 and its effects in Nepal,” he added.

“I have heard that the government was preparing to bring the equipment and reagents to diagnose the new variants,” said Dr Pun. “However, I don’t have information about the tests of new variants in Nepal,” he added.  

The MoHP report shows that there were 277,309 cases of recorded COVID-19 infections recorded till March 31. Of them, 3,030 died and there are 1,493 active cases. However, the data does not show the record of new variants infection.

“There may be new variant infection cases in Nepal. We can’t see if we don’t test it,” said Dr Pun. “If new variants from the UK, Brazil, South Africa, even India were traced in India. How can we claim that we don’t have these cases in Nepal?” he wondered. “The mutant virus sometimes can be more deadly than the original, and others may be weaker. It is said that Brazilian, African and the UK variants are deadlier, while the Indian variant is thought to be weaker,” he said.

“We need to study whether the already developed vaccines work against new strains. It has been reported that Covishield of AstraZeneca was found to be less effective to the African or other variants,” said Dr Pun. “Viruses can change their nature every season. We need to carry out a proper study,” he added.

But Nepal has neither studied the impact of vaccines nor has it worked to diagnose the new COVID-19 variants. The MoHP officials, however, claim that there are three labs—National Reference Laboratory, Teku, Kathmandu University Lab in Dhulikhel and a private one in the country that can test new variants of COVID-19. However, they did not furnish the reports of such tests.

“We have the labs but we do not have the needed chemicals and reagents to carry out the tests,” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint-spokesperson for the MoHP. “We don’t have any data of new variants tests,” he admitted. 

Such negligence wont help in preventive measures against the new variants, argued Dr Pun. Dr Adhikari says that awareness, prevention measures and sanitation standards are the same for all types of COVID-19 variants. 


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