The government has geared up efforts to contain the possible outbreak of coronavirus—COVID-19—in recent times. It has appealed people not to organize public gatherings, not to celebrate holi and promised that Nepal’s hospitals are equipped with resources to treat the infected people. Besides, it has cancelled the flights from and to COVID-19 infected countries and also put on hold the publicity campaign for Visit Nepal 2020 to avert the possible threats. These are good measures. Besides, there has been increased solidarity among political parties to fight the possible outbreak. The main opposition Nepali Congress has ensured that it stands with the government in its measures to avert the possible crisis. So far, we have been lucky in the sense that we are still the least affected country in the world. Nonetheless, we need to increase preparedness just in case COVID-19 is detected in Nepal.
What is deeply worrying, however, is the shortage of protective masks and hand sanitizers in the market. Though the country is still safe from COVID-19, that has taken toll globally with more than 3,000 deaths and more than 1, 00,000 infected, there is a sense of fear and panic in the air. People are rushing to the medical stores to buy masks and sanitizers but they do not get them. Even if they do, they have to pay exorbitantly high amount of money. Alarmingly, the traders and shopkeepers have taken advantage of people’s fear and made it an occasion to either hide the goods or sell them at much higher prices. Essential daily commodities such as rice, edible oil, lentils and cooking gas have become scarce, despite the government’s claim that public-sector trading enterprises have adequate stocks of some essential goods to meet demand for at least six months. Issuing a statement on Friday, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies has said that there is no reason for the public to be panicked by speculation about shortage of essential goods. Food Management and Trading Company Ltd (FMTCL), the government-owned trading company, says it has a stock of 25,669 tons of rice across the country, adequate to meet the demand for three months.
Understandably, people are buying these essentials in greater quantity for the fear of outbreak. They need to be discouraged from hoarding goods but the government has a greater responsibility to ensure that no single customer is cheated. For this it needs to further intensify market monitoring, crack down on black marketing and hold those responsible for artificial shortages to book. Apparently, some unscrupulous traders who overcharged the customers have been apprehended. But monitoring has to be made more effective so that the traders do not dare to breach the law. Besides, the government needs to increase stocks of vital goods such as rice, cooking gas and edible oil. Shortage and black marketing has started even though we are still safe. We cannot imagine the chaos if the COVID-19 actually breaks out in Nepal. As we have been maintaining in this space, the government needs to remain prepared for all kinds of eventualities.