Nepal’s response to the threat of coronavirus has been too slow from the very beginning. Come to think of it, the threat of alarm about this deadly virus was raised as early as late December, 2019 when cases appeared in China. By January, it was known to everyone in Nepal and the world about the rapidity of spread, the prospect of recovery and the fatality rate. Within this month, the first case was reported in the US as well as in other countries. By January end, the WHO had declared it a global public health emergency. Nepal too had the first coronavirus case this month. In February, the outbreak spread as far as Italy and Iran and the number of fatalities was fast increasing in these countries. And on March 8, the WHO declared it a global pandemic. What were Nepali authorities doing all this while?
Yes, the government brought in students stranded in Wuhan in February and were kept in two weeks’ quarantine. For many days after that, the government ministers and political leaders cared little except for delivering speeches and assuring that the country is well placed to deal with the outbreak. The fact that Nepal goes on lockdown mode on March 24, sixteen days, after the WHO called the disease a global pandemic and for days after that there was no restriction on mobility outside of the country shows how little we cared about the precaution. As a matter of fact, Nepal increased its preparedness only after the lockdown, whereas by that time, we should have kept all our hospital's standby with equipment, human resources, testing kits, medicine, and protective gear. When the government brought medical logistics from China, it was done in such a way the procurement process of life-saving materials was mired in corruption, the imported kits have been found below the standard and embezzlement of millions of rupees in the deal has been suspected. Now the government is preparing to handover major responsibility of tackling with Covid-19 to Nepal Army. Only after three additional cases were detected in Kailalai and Kanchanpur on Saturday, the government has taken a decision to start rapid testing in those districts.
All this is the example of how the government has been taking COVID-19 threat lightly. The authorities have taken decisions (rather than actions) only after new cases. It is as if the situation in worst-affected countries is no guide for us. It is as if only Nepal will be unaffected by the pandemic. As the cases are rising across the globe and even inside the country, our decision-making process has to be made more swift and quick and our response should translate inactions, more than assurances, meetings, decisions and plans (which we have had too many already). Countries like Italy, Spain and the US are now regretting not taking the pandemic threat seriously in the early days. They have concluded that if they had started preparedness early enough, the spread could have been averted. Government authorities in Nepal still have time to act fast.